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“A profound, nourishing book which is absolutely essential to the 
understanding of our troubled times. Ernest Becker has plumbed the 
darkest aspects of our experience and given us the insight we most 
desperately need.” 

— Anais Nin 

“[AJ challenging book — a guide into the shadowy labyrinths of 
Everyman’s psyche.” 

— The Grand Rapids Press 

“An urgent essay that bears all the marks of a final philosophical raging 
against the dying of the light .... The beauty — and terror — of his final 
testament lies in his unsparing analysis of how men from time immemorial 
have sought scapegoats and victims in order to bolster their intimations of 

— Newsweek 

“A masterful study of man’s struggle to transcend death through 
culture, and the evil which ensues .... an invaluable and haunting 
insight into the root of man’s evil.” 

— The Sunday Oklahoman 

"This brilliant and challenging book, written as Becker lay dying, adds 
another bit of reason to balance destruction .... it is a work of felicity and 
the kind of erudition that makes Becker much more than the label of 
cultural anthropologist suggests ... . It is, in the best sense of the words, 
both scientific and philosophical .... His contribution to the continuing 
dialogue is of the highest importance.” 

— Robert Kirsch, The Los Angeles Times 

“This is one of those few books which will affect all your subsequent 
reading, and help shape your self-awareness.” 

— The Providence Sunday Journal 

“Shuttling constantly among the individual, the culture and the cosmos, 
[Becker’s] book is a synthesis of anthropology, Freud, Otto Rank, Norman 
O. Brown, and his own considerable fund of observation and for- 
mulation . . . .” 

— Anatole Broyard, The New York Times 




"Becker has carried forward his brilliant synthesis of post-Freudian 
i thought .... Writing with remarkable simplicity and insight . . . has a 
haunting coherence and a built-in challenge to the serious reader seeking 
a solution to man’s irrational destructiveness." 

— Publishers Weekly 

"This extraordinary and wide-ranging book . . . should stimulate the 
search for philosophical and psychological systems that are more realistic 
about the human condition." 

— Margaret Manning, The Boston Sunday Globe 

"A brilliant generalist with a neo-Freudian perspective, Becker surveys 
anthropology, existential philosophy and psychoanalysis for the foundations 
of a science of society .... His work will be a great help to the many 
generalists now working on a post-Freudian, post-Marxian synthesis." 

— The Detroit Free Press 

“An exploration of the natural history of evil .... gather|s| the best 
insights into the human condition, fashioning them into a general theory of 
man .... Becker began as a cultural anthropologist, but he ended as a 
formidable polymath . Escape From Evil is a profound final 

testament .... an appropriate culmination of his career 
— The Chronicle of Higher Education Review 

“The author’s presence — high on ideas, bold and disorderly, out- 
rageous and appreciative, always in search — has an exhilarating 
effect .... Becker's tone is . . . urgent and animated — he is still there 
arguing, doubting, debating with himself, despairing, looking for and 
rarely finding avenues of human hope. Again he displays his extraordinary' 
synthetic gift as he moves freely, even dazzlingly, not only from Freud to 
Marx and from Rank to Brown, but from Rousseau to Hobbes, Huizinga, 
Mumford, Hugh Duncan and Kenneth Burke .... Becker’s work should 
give powerful impetus to the development of a depth psychology appro- 
priate to our condition and our history, but with significance beyond the 
historical moment .... Any future social theory will owe much to Becker, 
as does contemporary psychological thought .... The power of the work 

— Robert Jay Lifton, The New York Times Book Review 




Ernest Becker 


A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 


Collier Macmillan Publishers 


Copyright © 1975 by Marie Becker 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or trans- 
mitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including 
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval 
system, without permission in writing from the Publisher. 

The Free Press 

A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 

866 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022 

Collier Macmillan Canada, Ltd. 

First Free Press Paperback Edition 1976 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 75-12059 

Printed in the United States of America 

printing number 

123456789 10 

The poem on page xi is from “The Ninth Elegy,” in Rainer Maria Rilke, 
Duino Elegies, translated by C.F. MacIntyre (Berkeley and Los Angeles: 
University of California Press, 1963, pp. 67 and 69), originally published 
by the University of California Press; reprinted by permission of The 
Regents of the University of California. 

In memory of Otto Rank, whose thought 
may well prove to be the rarest gift of Freud’s 
disciples to the world. 

There is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is 
inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because 
the evil facts which it positively refuses to account 
for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may 
after all be the best key to life’s significance, and 
possibly the only openers of our eyes to the 
deepest levels of truth. 

William James 1 

If a way to the better there be, it lies in 
taking a full look at the worst. 

Thomas Hardy 

Why, if it’s possible to spend this span 
of existence as laurel, a little darker than all 
other greens, with little waves on every 
leaf -edge (like the smile of a breeze), why, then, 
must we be human and, shunning destiny, 
long for it? . . . 

Oh, not because happiness, 
that over -hasty profit of loss impending, exists. 

Not from curiosity, or to practise the heart, 
that would also be in the laurel . . . 
but because to be here is much, and the transient Here 
seems to need and concern us strangely. Us, the most 

Everyone once, once only. Just once and no more. 

And we also once. Never again. But this having been 
once, although only once, to have been of the earth, 
seems irrevocable. 

And so we drive ourselves and want to achieve it, 

want to hold it in our simple hands, 

in the surfeited gaze and in the speechless heart. 

Want to become it. Give it to whom? Rather 
keep all forever . . . but to the other realm, 
alas, what can be taken? Not the power of seeing, 
learned here so slowly, and nothing that’s happened 


Rainer Maria Rilke 


Prefatory N ote 

Preface xvii 

Introduction. The Human Condition: Between Appetite 
and Ingenuity 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 6 

The Primitive World: Economics as Expiation and 

Power 26 

The Origin of Inequality 38 

The Evolution of Inequality 52 

The New Historical Forms of Immortality Power 
Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 73 

The Basic Dynamic of Human Evil 91 

The Nature of Social Evil 96 

Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 128 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society? 146 

References 171 

Index 183 


Prefatory Note 

Approaching death, Ernest Becker requested that the original manu- 
script of this, his final book, rest private and unpublished in a desk 
drawer, no energy remaining in him for any further barter with 
the gods. Believing the work to be an eloquent closure of his sci- 
entific literary career, Robert Wallace and I (with some initial 
anguish over the risk of irreverence) firmly decided upon publica- 
tion realizing that had the time remained, the author himself would 
have done so for what he considered to be his magnum opus. Some 
material has been eliminated as it appears elsewhere, but beyond 
editing and routine work the book is Ernest’s. 

Marie Becker 



This book is a companion volume to The Denial of Death. It 
completes the task begun there, which is to synthesize the scien- 
tific and tragic perspectives on man. In The Denial of Death 1 ar- 
gued that man’s innate and all-encompassing fear of death drives 
him to attempt to transcend death through culturally standardized 
hero systems and symbols. In this book I attempt to show that man’s 
natural and inevitable urge to deny mortality and achieve a heroic 
self-image are the root causes of human evil. This book also com- 
pletes my confrontation of the work of Otto Rank and my attempt 
to transcribe its relevance for a general science of man. Ideally, of 
course, the two books should be read side by side in order to give 
the integrated and comprehensive picture that the author himself 
has ( or imagines he has ) ; but each book stands on its own and can 
be read without the other. 

In my previous writings I tried to sketch out what might be a 
synthesis of the science of man. One of their major shortcomings, I 
now see, had to do with their fundamental organizing concept. I 
thought it was enough to use the unifying “principle of self-esteem 
maintenance.” But as we will see in Chapter Five, it was too ab- 
stract, it lacked body, a universal, energetic content in the form of 
specific, inflexible motives. These motives I found in the work of 
Rank, in his insistence on the fundamental dynamic of the fear 
of life and death, and man’s urge to transcend this fear in a cul- 
turally constituted heroism. 

My previous writings did not take sufficient account of truly 
vicious human behavior. This is a dilemma that I have been caught 
in, along with many others who have been trying to keep alive the 
Enlightenment tradition of a science of man: how to reflect the 
empirical data on man, the data that show what a horribly destruc- 
tive creature he has been throughout his history, and yet still have 
a science that is not manipulative or cynical. If man is as bad as 
he seems, then either we have to behaviorally coerce him into the 
good life or else we have to abandon the hope of a science of man 



entirely. This is how the alternatives have appeared. Obviously it 
is an enormous problem: to show that man is truly evil-causing in 
much of his motivation, and yet to move beyond this to the possi- 
bilities of sane, renewing action, some kind of third alternative be- 
yond bureaucratic science and despair. 

Whether I have succeeded in leaving open the possibility for such 
a third alternative, while looking man full in the face for the first 
time in my career, is now for others to say. In the process of writing 
this book I compiled a pile of slips with things to say in the Preface, 
about the matters on which my mind has largely changed, those on 
which my views remain the same, etc. But this would be redundant; 
it would be easy for any interested student to trace — if he had the 
inclination to — the errors and wanderings, the inevitable record of 
personal growth and sobering up that characterize a so-called sci- 
entific career. Let me just say that if I have changed my views on 
many things, this change leaves intact, I believe, the basic premise 
of the Enlightenment which I feel we cannot abandon and continue 
to be working scientists — namely, that there is nothing in man or 
nature which would prevent us from taking some control of our 
destiny and making the world a saner place for our children. This 
is certainly harder, and more of a gamble, than I once thought; but 
maybe this should reinforce our dedication and truly tax our imagi- 
nations. Many of us have been lazy or smug, others too hopeful 
and naive. The realism of the world should make us better scien- 
tists. There is a distinct difference between pessimism, which does 
not exclude hope, and cynicism, which does. I see no need, there- 
fore, to apologize for the relative grimness of much of the thought 
contained in this book; it seems to me to be starkly empirical. 
Since I have been fighting against admitting the dark side of hu- 
man nature for a dozen years, this thought can hardly be a simple 
reflex of my own temperament, of what I naturally feel comfortable 
with. Nor is it a simple function of our uneasy epoch, since it was 
gathered by the best human minds of many dispositions and epochs, 
and so I think it can be said that it reflects objectively the universal 
situation of the creature we call man. 

Finally, it goes without saying that this is a large project for one 
mind to try to put between two covers; I am painfully aware that 
I may not have succeeded, that I may have bitten off too much 

Preface xix 

and may have tried to put it too sparely so that it could all fit in. 
As in most of my other work, I have reached far beyond my 
competence and have probably secured for good a reputation for 
flamboyant gestures. But the times still crowd me and give me no 
rest, and I see no way to avoid ambitious synthetic attempts; either 
we get some kind of grip on the accumulation of thought or we 
continue to wallow helplessly, to starve amidst plenty. So I gamble 
with science and write, but the game seems to me very serious and 

Research on the book was aided by Simon Fraser University 
President’s Research Grants. 

Vancouver, 1972 



The Human Condition: 
Between Appetite and Ingenuity 

What could we say in the simplest possible way that would "reveal” 
man to us — show what he was, what he was trying to do, and what 
it all added up to? I have been working on this for some years 
now, trying to make complex things more clear, to peel away dis- 
guises and marginalia, trying to get at the truly basic things about 
man, the things that really drive him. I now see that we must make 
a clear distinction between man’s creatureliness — his appetite — 
on the one hand and his ingenuity on the other. 

Man is an animal. The upshot of the modern body of work called 
ethology, of Lionel Tiger, Robin Fox, Konrad Lorenz, and a host of 
others, is that it reminds us of the basic human condition: that 
man is first and and foremost an animal moving about on a planet 
shining in the sun. Whatever else he is, is built on this. The argu- 
ment of these people is that we shall never understand man if we 
do not begin with his animal nature. And this is truly basic. The 
only certain thing we know about this planet is that it is a theater 
for crawling life, organismic life, and at least we know what or- 
ganisms are and what they are trying to do. 

At its most elemental level the human organism, like crawling life, 
has a mouth, digestive tract, and anus, a skin to keep it intact, and 
appendages with which to acquire food. Existence, for all organis- 
mic life, is a constant struggle to feed — a struggle to incorporate 
whatever other organisms they can fit into their mouths and press 
down their gullets without choking. Seen in these stark terms, fife 
on this planet is a gory spectacle, a science-fiction nightmare in 
which digestive tracts fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away 
at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up 
the fuming waste excrement as they move along in search of more 
flesh. I think this is why the epoch of the dinosaurs exerts such a 



strange fascination on us: it is an epic food orgy with king-size 
actors who convey unmistakably what organisms are dedicated to. 
Sensitive souls have reacted with shock to the elemental drama of 
life on this planet, and one of the reasons that Darwin so shocked 
his time — and still bothers ours — is that he showed this bone- 
crushing, blood-drinking drama in all its elementality and necessity: 
Life cannot go on without the mutual devouring of organisms. If 
at the end of each person’s life he were to be presented with the 
living spectacle of all that he had organismically incorporated in 
order to stay alive, he might well feel horrified by the living energy 
he had ingested. The horizon of a gourmet, or even the average 
person, would be taken up with hundreds of chickens, flocks of 
lambs and sheep, a small herd of steers, sties full of pigs, and rivers 
of fish. The din alone would be deafening. To paraphrase Elias 
Canetti, each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles 
into the sun, and declares life good. 

Beyond the toothsome joy of consuming other organisms is the 
warm contentment of simply continuing to exist — continuing to 
experience physical stimuli, to sense one’s inner pulsations and mus- 
culature, to delight in the pleasures that nerves transmit. Once the or- 
ganism is satiated, this becomes its frantic all-consuming task, to hold 
onto life at any cost — and the costs can be catastrophic in the case of 
man. This absolute dedication to Eros, to perseverance, is universal 
among organisms and is the essence of life on this earth, and be- 
cause we are mystified by it we call it the instinct for self-preserva- 
tion. For man, in the words of the anthropologist A. M. Hocart, this 
organismic craving takes the form of the search for “prosperity” — 
the universal ambition of human society. Now, prosperity means 
simply that a high level of organismic functioning will be main- 
tained, and so anything that works against this has to be avoided. In 
other words, in man the search for appetitive satisfaction has be- 
come conscious: he is an organism who knows that he wants food 
and who knows what will happen if he doesn’t get it, or if he gets 
it but falls ill and fails to enjoy its benefits. Once we have an animal 
who recognizes that he needs prosperity, we also have one who 
realizes that anything that works against continued prosperity is bad. 
And so we understand how man has come, universally, to identify 
disease and death as the two principal evils of the human organis- 

The Human Condition: Between Appetite and Ingenuity 3 

mic condition. Disease defeats the joys of prosperity while one is 
alive, and death cuts prosperity off coldly. 

Extinction: The Dread of Insignificance 

And this brings us to the unique paradox of the human condition: 
that man wants to persevere as does any animal or primitive or- 
ganism; he- is driven by the same craving to consume, to convert 
energy, and to enjoy continued experience. But man is cursed with 
a burden no animal has to bear: he is conscious that his own end is 
inevitable, that his stomach will die. 

Wanting nothing less than eternal prosperity, man from the very 
beginning could not live with the prospect of death. As I argued 
in The Denial of Death , man erected cultural symbols which do not 
age or decay to quiet his fear of his ultimate end — and of more im- 
mediate concern, to provide the promise of indefinite duration. His 
culture gives man an alter-organism which is more durable and 
powerful than the one nature endowed him with. The Muslim 
heaven, for example, is probably the most straightforward and un- 
selfconscious vision of what the human organism really hopes for, 
what the alter-organism hopes to enjoy. 

What I am saying is that man transcends death via culture not 
only in simple (or simple-minded) visions like gorging himself 
with lamb in a perfumed heaven full of dancing girls, but in much 
more complex and symbolic ways. Man transcends death not only 
by continuing to feed his appetites, but especially by finding a 
meaning for his life, some kind of larger scheme into which he fits: 
he may believe he has fulfilled God’s purpose, or done his duty to 
his ancestors or family, or achieved something which has enriched 
mankind. This is how man assures the expansive meaning of his life 
in the face of the real limitations of his body; the "immortal self’ 
can take very spiritual forms, and spirituality is not a simple reflex 
of hunger and fear. It is an expression of the will to live, the 
burning desire of the creature to count, to make a difference on the 
planet because he has lived, has emerged on it, and has worked, 
suffered, and died. 1 



When Tolstoy came to face death, what he really experienced 
was anxiety about the meaning of his life. As he lamented in his 

What will come of my whole life. ... Is there any meaning in my life 
that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy? 2 

This is mankind’s age-old dilemma in the face of death: it is the 
meaning of the thing that is of paramount importance; what man 
really fears is not so much extinction, but extinction with insignifi- 
cance. Man wants to know that his life has somehow counted, if 
not for himself, then at least in a larger scheme of things, that it has 
left a trace, a trace that has meaning. And in order for anything 
once alive to have meaning, its effects must remain alive in eternity 
in some way. Or, if there is to be a “final” tally of the scurrying of 
man on earth — a “judgment day” — then this trace of one’s life must 
enter that tally and put on record who one was and that what 
one did was significant. 

We can see that the self-perpetuation of organisms is the basic 
motive for what is most distinctive about man — namely, religion. As 
Otto Rank put it, all religion springs, in the last analysis, “not so 
much from . . . fear of natural death as of final destruction.” 3 But it 
is culture itself that embodies the transcendence of death in some 
form or other, whether it appears purely religious or not. It is very 
important for students of man to be clear about this: culture itself 
is sacred, since it is the “religion” that assures in some way the 
perpetuation of its members. For a long time students of society 
liked to think in terms of “sacred” versus “profane” aspects of social 
life. But there has been continued dissatisfaction with this kind of 
simple dichotomy, and the reason is that there is really no basic 
distinction between sacred and profane in the symbolic affairs of 
men. As soon as you have symbols you have artificial self-transcen- 
dence via culture. Everything cultural is fabricated and given 
meaning by the mind, a meaning that was not given by physical 
nature. Culture is in this sense “supernatural,” 4 and all systematiza- 
tions of culture have in the end the same goal: to raise men above 
nature, to assure them that in some ways their lives count in the 
universe more than merely physical things count. 

The Human Condition: Between Appetite and Ingenuity 5 

Now we can get to the point of this brief Introduction and see 
where it has all been leading. The reader has surely already seen 
the rub, and objected in his own mind that the symbolic denial of 
mortality is a figment of the imagination for flesh-and-blood or- 
ganisms, that if man seeks to avoid evil and assure his eternal 
prosperity, he is living a fantasy for which there is no scientific 
evidence so far. To which I would add that this would be all right if 
the fantasy were a harmless one. The fact is that self-transcendence 
via culture does not give man a simple and straightforward solution 
to the problem of death; the terror of death still rumbles under- 
neath the cultural repression (as I argued in a previous book). 5 
What men have done is to shift the fear of death onto the higher 
level of cultural perpetuity; and this very triumph ushers in an 
ominous new problem. Since men must now hold for dear life onto 
the self-transcending meanings of the society in which they live, 
onto the immortality symbols which guarantee them indefinite 
duration of some kind, a new kind of instability and anxiety are 
created. And this anxiety is precisely what spills over into the affairs 
of men. In seeking to avoid evil, man is responsible for bringing 
more evil into the world than organisms could ever do merely by 
exercising their digestive tracts. It is man’s ingenuity, rather than 
his animal nature, that has given his fellow creatures such a bitter 
earthly fate. This is the main argument of my book, and in the 
following chapters I want to try to show exactly how this comes 
about, how man’s impossible hopes and desires have heaped evil 
in the world. 


The Primitive World: 
Ritual as Practical Technics 

The object of ritual is to secure full life and to 
escape from evil. . . . 
A. M. Hocart 1 

One can read anthropology for years — even the very best anthropol- 
ogy — without ever really understanding what men are trying to do in 
primitive society. There are so many facts, so many strange customs, 
and they give a picture so complex and overflowing that there doesn’t 
seem to be a center anywhere, and so we can’t get any conceptual 
grip on the phenomenon. Even the voluminous brilliance of a Levi- 
Strauss never really tells us tvhy primitives are doing such complex 
and ingenious intellectual work. I have read only one anthropologist 
who has given us the larger view of the primitive world — A. M. 
Hocart. It is true that Johan Huizinga came close in his Homo 
Ludens, but Hocart, with his wealth of anthropological data and 
detail, has brought us to the heart of the matter. 

Hocart, as I have said, saw the universal human ambition as the 
achievement of prosperity — the good life. To satisfy this craving, 
only man could create that most powerful concept which has both 
made him heroic and brought him utter tragedy — the invention and 
practice of ritual, which is first and foremost a technique for promot- 
ing the good life and averting evil. Let us not rush over these words: 
ritual is a technique for giving life. The thing is momentous: 
throughout vast ages of prehistory mankind imagined that it could 
control life! We scoff at the idea because we do not believe life can 
be controlled by charms, spells, and magic. But as Hocart warns us, 
just that we do not believe in the efficacy of the technique is no 


The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 


reason for overlooking the momentous place that ritual has had in 
the life of mankind . 2 

The fact is that primitive man imagined he could transfer life 
from one thing to another, that he could, for example, take the 
spirit-power that resided in the scalp of an enemy and, by proper 
dancing and chanties, transfer that life from its former owner to 
the new one. Or, in the famous totemic increase ceremonies of the 
Australian aborigines, primitive men imagined that by going 
through the motions of imitating animal births they could in- 
crease the number of kangaroos, emus, grubs in the world. The 
technique was so precise that the aborigine could even prescribe the 
color of the kangaroos — brown, say, rather than gray. Or again, 
the aim of the technique could be general and vast, and make the 
renovation of the whole universe, the sun, and all the earth. Or, 
finally, ritual could generate not only bears or yams, or the life of 
the whole universe, but the individual soul as well. This is the 
meaning of the “rites of passage” rituals which took place at birth, 
puberty, marriage, and death: by means of symbolically dying and 
being reborn via ritual the individual was elevated to new states of 
being. Life was not a curve as we see it, where birth is zero and 
death a return to zero. For primitive man birth was zero, but very 
often death was considered the final promotion of the soul to a 
state of superhuman power and indefinite durability. 

I’m sure I don’t have to expand on any of this — the literature is 
familiar to most readers, and in any case there is no substitute for 
reading the details in Hocart, Mircea Eliade, Henri Frankfort, Jane 
Harrison, or any of a number of such regaling authorities. The point 
I want to make is very simple and direct: that by means of the 
techniques of ritual men imagined that they took firm control of 
the material world, and at the same time transcended that world 
by fashioning their own invisible projects which made them super- 
natural, raised them over and above material decay and death. In 
the world of ritual there aren’t even any accidents, and accidents, 
as we know, are the things that make life most precarious and 
meaningless. Our knees grow weak when we think of a young 
girl of awesome beauty who gets crushed to death simply because 
her foot slips on a mountain path; if life can be so subject to 




chance, it mustn’t have too much meaning. But how can that be, 
since we are alive and since creatures are so marvelous? Primitive 
man takes care of this problem by imagining that his control over 
nature is fairly complete, and that in any case nothing ever happens 
unless somebody wants it to happen. So a person slips on a 
mountain path because some powerful dead spirit is jealous of the 
living, or some witch is secretly working her ritual against that 
person . 3 

As I see it, the history of mankind divides into two great periods: 
the first one existed from time immemorial until roughly the 
Renaissance or Enlightenment, and it was characterized by the 
ritualist view of nature. The second period began with the efflores- 
cence of the modern machine age and the domination of the 
scientific method and world view. In both periods men wanted to 
control life and death, but in the first period they had to rely on a 
nonmachine technology to do it: ritual is actually a preindustrial 
technique of manufacture; it doesn’t exactly create new things, 
Hocart says, but it transfers the power of life and it renovates 
nature. But how can we have a technique of manufacture without 
machinery? Precisely by building a ritual altar and making that the 
locus of the transfer and renewal of life power: 

Unable to take down, repair, and put together again the actual ma- 
chinery [of the world] when it goes wrong, [the ritualist] . . . takes to 
pieces and rebuilds their form by means of the [ritual] sacrifice . 4 

If the altar represents a person’s body (the machinery) that body 
may function well or poorly depending how carefully the altar has 
been constructed. As Hocart adds — and as Levi-Strauss has recently 
conclusively argued — there is no need to postulate a mind differ- 
ently constituted from our own. Man controls nature by whatever 
he can invent, and primitive man invented the ritual altar and the 
magical paraphernalia to make it work. And as the modern 
mechanic carries around his tools, so did the primitive scrupulously 
transport his charms and rebuild his altars. 

We call it magic because we don’t believe it worked, and we 
call our technology scientific because we believe it works. I am 
not pretending that primitive magic is as efficacious for the control 
of nature as is our science, but in our time we are beginning to live 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 9 

with some strange and uncomfortable realizations. Primitive ritual 
manufacture of life may not have actually controlled the universe, 
but at least it was never in any danger of destroying it. We control 
it up to a point — the point at which we seem to be destroying it. 
Besides, our belief in the efficacy of the machine control of nature 
has in itself elements of magic and ritual trust. Machines are sup- 
posed to work, and to work infallibly, since we have to put all our 
trust in them. And so when they fail to work our whole world view 
begins to crumble — just as the primitives’ world view did when they 
found their rituals were not working in the face of western culture 
and weaponry. I am thinking of how anxious we are to find the 
exact cause of an airplane crash, or how eager we are to attribute 
the crash to “human error” and not machine failure. Or even more, 
how the Russians hush up their air crashes: how can machines fail 
in machine paradise? 

The fact that western man didn’t know what was going on be- 
cause he was faced with a technics so alien to his ways of thought 
probably explains our long puzzlement over the organization of 
primitive society. The Australian aborigines — who were living in 
the Stone Age — seemed the most paradoxical of all, with their 
luxuriant systems of kinship classification and their complex 
divisions of their tribe into half and half and then half again. 

This passion for splitting things into two polar opposites that were 
complementary was a most striking and widespread feature of 
primitive man’s social organization. ( The Chinese Yin and Yang is a 
survival of this phenomenon. ) A person belonged either to one half 
or the other, traced his descent from a common ancestor, often 
identified with a particular animal totem representing his half, 
usually married someone in the other half, and had rigorously 
specified types of relationship with people in the other half, includ- 
ing the duty to bury them and mourn for them. One of the main 
things that took place between the halves was something Homo 
sapiens seems to thrive on: contests of skill and excellence. Hocart 
thinks that the teasing and mocking behaviors which anthropologists 
call “joking relationships” may have had their origin there. In fact, 
it is possible that all team games arose out of the dual organization. 

Actually the puzzlement mentioned earlier continued until just 
yesterday. It was laid to rest when Levi-Strauss tackled head on the 



luxuriance of primitive symbolism and classification . 5 The result 
was the complete, widespread, and popular recognition of some- 
thing anthropologists among themselves had long known: that the 
primitive mind was just as intelligent as ours, just as intent on 
examining the minute facts of existence and putting order into 
them. Primitive man fed into his cerebral computer all the important 
natural facts of this world as he observed and understood them, and 
tried to relate them intimately to his life just as we try to relate 
the mechanical laws of the universe to our own. Did we wonder at 
the complexity of primitive symbolism and social organization? 
Well, it was because primitive man tried to organize his society to 
reflect his theory of nature. 

To quote Huizinga: 

Anthropology has shown with increasing clarity how social life in the 
archaic period normally rests on the antagonistic and antithetical struc- 
ture of the community itself, and how the whole mental world of such 
a community corresponds to this profound dualism . 6 

Technically we call it “moiety” organization — a dry and forbidding 
anthropological term that makes the study of primitives so dull, 
until we give the term life by showing what it means and does. 
Hocart thought that moiety organization had been nearly universal 
at some stage of social evolution. Levi-Strauss too was taken with 
what he regarded as a natural tendency of the human mind to 
split things into contrasts and complementarities, which he called 
“binary opposition.” It has given a great boost to the computer 
freaks, this binary tendency of the primitive mind, because it seems 
to show that man functions naturally just like the computer — and 
so the computer can be championed as the logical fulfillment of 
basic human nature, and the mystery of mind and symbolism 
might well be traceable down to simple neural circuits, etc. 

But Hocart did not get carried away into abstractions as many 
did. His explanation for this profound dualism lies in the real 
world of human ambitions and hopes : 

Perhaps it is a law of nature, but that is not sufficient to explain the 
dual organization. . . . Nor does it explain the curious interaction of the 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 11 

moieties; in fact it is this interaction which must explain the dual 
division; for men divide themselves into two groups in order that they 
may impart life to one another, that they may intermarry, compete with 
one another, make offerings to one another, and do to one another what- 
ever is required by their theory of prosperity . 7 

There we have it. Leave it to Hocart to cut through to the heart 
of the matter. The reason for the dual organization is so foreign 
to us that we may not at first see it: it was necessary for ritual. The 
fundamental imperative of all ritual is that one cannot do it alone; 
man cannot impart life to himself but must get it from his fellow 
man. If ritual is a technique for generating life, then ritual organi- 
zation is a necessary cooperation in order to make that technique 
work . 8 

The deeper level of explanation for the dual organization is so 
simple we may not see it: it is phenomenological. Man needs to 
work his magic with the materials of this world, and human beings 
are the primary materials for the magic wrought by social life. We 
saw in the Introduction that one of the main motives of organismic 
life was the urge to self-feeling, to the heightened sense of self 
that comes with success in overcoming obstacles and incorporating 
other organisms. The expansion of the self-feeling in nature can 
come about in many different ways, especially when we get to the 
human level of complexity. Man can expand his self-feeling not 
only by physical incorporation but by any kind of triumph or dem- 
onstration of his own excellence. He expands his organization in 
complexity by games, puzzles, riddles, mental tricks of all types; 
by boasting about his achievements, taunting and humiliating his 
adversaries, or torturing and killing them. Anything that reduces 
the other organisms and adds to one’s own size and importance is 
a direct way to gain self-feeling; it is a natural development out 
of the simple incorporation and fighting behavior of lower organisms. 

By the time we get to man we find that he is in an almost constant 
struggle not to be diminished in his organismic importance. But as 
he is also and especially a symbolic organism, this struggle against 
being diminished is carried on on the most minute levels of sym- 
bolic complexity. To be outshone by another is to be attacked at 
some basic level of organismic durability. To lose, to be second 



rate, to fail to keep up with the best and the highest sends a mes- 
sage to the nerve center of the organism’s anxiety: “I am over- 
shadowed, inadequate; hence I do not qualify for continued dura- 
bility, for life, for eternity; hence I will die.” William James saw 
this everyday anxiety over failure and recorded it with his usual 
pungent prose: 

Failure, then failure! so the world stamps us at every turn. We strew it 
with our blunders, our misdeeds, our lost opportunities, with all the 
memorials of our inadequacy to our vocation. And with what a damning 
emphasis does it then blot us out! . . . The subtlest forms of suffering 
known to man are connected with the poisonous humiliations incidental 
to these results. . . . And they are pivotal human experiences. A process 
so ubiquitous and everlasting is evidently an integral part of life . 9 

We just saw why: because it is connected to the fundamental 
motive of organismic appetite: to endure, to continue experiencing, 
and to know that one can continue because he possesses some 
special excellence that makes him immune to diminution and death. 

This explains too the ubiquitousness of envy. Envy is the signal 
of danger that the organism sends to itself when a shadow is being 
cast over it, when it is threatened with being diminished. Little 
wonder that Leslie Farber could call envy a primary emotional 
substratum, or that Helmut Schoeck could write a whole stimulat- 
ing book about envy as a central focus of social behavior . 10 The 
“fear of being reduced . . . almost seems to have a life of its own 
inside one’s being,” as Alan Harrington so well put it in a couple 
of brilliant pages on envy . 11 

I am making this little detour into phenomenological ontology 
only to remind the reader of the great stake that the organism has 
in blowing itself up in size, importance, and durability. Because 
only if we understand how natural this motive is can we understand 
how it is only in society that man can get the symbolic measures 
for the degrees of his importance, his qualification for extradurabil- 
ity. And it is only by contrasting and comparing himself to like 
organisms, to his fellow men, that he can judge if he has some 
extra claim to importance. Obviously it is not very convincing about 
one’s ultimate worth to be better than a lobster, or even a fox; but 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 13 

to outshine “that fellow sitting over there, the one with the black 
eyes” — now that is something that carries the conviction of ulti- 
macy. To paraphrase Buber, the faces of men carry the highest 
meaning to other men. 

Once we understand this, we can see further why the moiety 
organization is such a stroke of primitive genius: it sets up society 
as a continuing contest for the forcing of self-feeling, provides 
ready-made props for self-aggrandizement, a daily script that in- 
cludes straight men for “joking relationships” and talented rivals 
with whom to contend for social honor in games, feats of strength, 
hunting and warfare. Sociologists have very nicely described the 
dynamics of “status forcing” and similar types of behavior, in which 
people try to come out of social encounters a little bigger than 
they went in, by playing intricate games of oneupmanship. But you 
cannot force your status vis-a-vis someone else unless there is a 
someone else and there are rules for status and verbal conventions 
for playing around with status, for coming out of social groups 
with increased self-inflation. Society almost everywhere provides 
codes for such self-aggrandizement, for the ability to boast, to 
humiliate, or just simply to outshine in quiet ways — like displaying 
one’s superior achievements, even if it is only skill in hunting that 
feeds everyone’s stomach. If Hocart says that man cannot impart life 
to himself but must get it via ritual from his fellow man, then we 
can say even further that man cannot impart importance to himself; 
and importance, we now see, is just as deep a problem in securing 
life: importance equals durability equals life. 

However, I don’t want to seem to be making out that primitive 
society organized itself merely as a stage for competitive self- 
aggrandizement, or that men can only expand their sense of self 
at the expense of others. This would not be true, even though it is 
a large and evidently natural part of human motivation. Primitive 
society also expressed its genius by giving to people much less 
invidious and competitive forms of self-expansion. I think here of 
the work of Erving Coffman, in which he showed with such con- 
summate art how people impart to one another the daily sense of 
importance that each needs, not with rivalry and boasting, but 
rather with elaborate rules for protecting their insides against social 
damage and deflation. People do this in their interpersonal en- 



counters by using verbal formulas that express proper courtesies, 
permit gentle handling, save the other’s “face” with the proper 
subtleties when self-esteem is in danger, and so on. Social life is 
interwoven with salutations for greeting and taking leave, for ac- 
knowledging others with short, standardized conversations which 
reinforce the sense of well-being of all the members . 12 There is no 
point in repeating Coffman here, or even in trying to sum up his 
approach; all I want to do is to say that men in society manage 
to give to each other what they need in terms of good organismic 
self-feeling in two major ways: on one hand, by codes that allow 
people to compare their achievements and virtues so as to outshine 
rivals; on the other hand, by codes that support and protect tender 
human feelings that prevent the undermining and deflation that 
can result from the clash of organismic ambitions. 

But now to see how the technique for the ritual renewal of nature 
worked — how well it served the actors who played the parts. We 
can really only get “inside” primitive societies by seeing them as 
religious priesthoods with each person having a role to play in the 
generative rituals. We have so long been stripped of a ritual role 
to play in creation that we have to force ourselves to try to under- 
stand this, to get this into perspective. We don’t know what it 
means to contribute a dance, a chant, or a spell in a community 
dramatization of the forces of nature — unless we belong to an ac- 
tive religious community . 0 Nor can we feel the immense sense of 
achievement that follows from such a ritual contribution: the ritual- 
ist has done nothing less than enable life to continue; he has 
contributed to sustaining and renewing the universe. If rituals 
generate and redistribute life power, then each person is a generator 
of life. That is how important a person could feel, within the ritual- 
ist view of nature, by occupying a ritual place in a community. 
Even the humblest person was a cosmic creator. We may not think 

0 I think a good case could be made for rock music festivals as the modern 
popular religious experience, the ultimate degenerate form of the ancient 
ritual dramatization. Rock serves the same function without the cosmic con- 
nection, much as the circus does. See Sidney Tarachow’s fine little overview, 
“Circuses and Clowns,” in Geza Roheim, ed., Psychoanalysis and the Social 
Sciences (New York: International Universities Press, 1951 ), vol. 3, pp. 171- 
185, and compare this description with a performance by the Alice Cooper 
rock group. 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 15 

that the ritual generation of brown kangaroos is a valid causal 
affair, but the primitive feels the effect of his ability to generate 
life, he is ennobled by it, even though it may be an illusion. We 
may console ourselves about our historical demotion from the status 
of cosmic heroism by saying that at least we know what true re- 
ligion is, whereas these cosmic creators lived according to childish 
magic. I’ll admit that our historical disenchantment is a burden 
that gives us a certain sober worldliness, but there is no valid 
difference between religion and magic, no matter how many books 
are written to support the distinction. As Hocart pointed out so 
succinctly, magic is religion we don’t believe in, and religion is magic 
we believe in. Voila tout. 

What Huizinga did in Homo Ludens was to show that primitive 
life was basically a rich and playful dramatization of life; primitive 
man acted out his significance as a living creature and as a lord 
over other creatures. It seems to me like genius, this remarkable 
intuition of what man needs and wants; and primitive man not only 
had this uncanny intuition but actually acted on it, set up his social 
life to give himself what he needed and wanted. We may know 
what we lack in modem life, and we brood on it, but twist and 
sweat as we may we can never seem to bring it off. Perhaps things 
were simpler and more manageable in prehistoric times and had 
not gotten out of hand, and so man could act on what he knew. 
Primitive man set up his society as a stage, silrrounded himself 
with actors to play different roles, invented gods to address the 
performance to, and then ran off one ritual drama after the other, 
raising himself to the stars and bringing the stars down into the 
affairs of men. He staged the dance of life, with himself at the 
center. And to think that when western man first crashed uninvited 
into these spectacular dramas, he was scornful of what he' saw. 
That was because, as Huizinga so well argued, western man was 
already a fallen creature who had forgotten how to play, how to 
impart to life high style and significance. Western man was being 
given a brief glimpse of the creations of human genius, and like a 
petulant imbecile bully who feels discomfort at what he doesn’t 
understand, he proceeded to smash everything in sight. 

Many people have scoffed at Goffman’s delineation of the every- 
day modern rituals of face-work and status forcing; they have 


argued that these types of petty self-promotion might be true of 
modern organization men hopelessly set adrift in bureaucratic 
society but these kinds of shallow oneupmanship behaviors couldn’t 
possibly be true of man everywhere. Consequently, these critics say, 
Coffman may be a perceptive observer of the contemporary scene, 
of the one-dimensionality of mass society, but he is definitely not 
talking about human nature. I have noted elsewhere that I think 
these critics of Coffman are very wrong, and I repeat it here be- 
cause it is more in context with the deeper understanding of 
primitive society. When you set up society to do creation rituals, 
then you obviously increase geometrically the magnitude of im- 
portance that organisms can impart to one another. It is only in 
modern society that the mutual imparting of self-importance has 
trickled down to the simple maneuvering of face-work; there is 
hardly any way to get a sense of value except from the boss, the 
company dinner, or the random social encounters in the elevator or 
on the way to the executive toilet. It is pretty demeaning — but that 
is not Goffman’s fault, it is the playing out of the historical deca- 
dence of ritual. Primitive society was a formal organization for the 
apotheosis of man. Our own everyday rituals seem shallow pre- 
cisely because they lack the cosmic connection. Instead of only 
using one’s fellow man as a mirror to make one’s face shine, the 
primitive used the whole cosmos. I think it is safe to say that 
primitive organization for ritual is the paradigm and ancestor of 
all face-work, and that archaic ritual was nothing other than in- 
depth face-work; it related the person to the mysterious forces 
of the cosmos, gave him an intimate share in them. This is why 
the primitive seems multidimensional to many present-day anthro- 
pologists who are critical of modern mass society. 

So far I have been talking vaguely and in generalities about the 
“cosmic connection”; I merely mentioned and skipped by the fact 
that primitive society was organized according to a particular 
theory of nature, hence the luxuriance of its symbolisms and the 
formalism of its organization. Now we have to see what this means. 

As ritual is an organization for life, it has to be carried out 
according to a particular theory of prosperity — that is, how exactly 
to get nature t* give more life to the tribe. The most striking thing 
to us about the primitive theory of prosperity is how elemental it 

1 7 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 

was — or organic, as we would say today. Primitive man observed 
nature and tried to discern in it what made the dance of life — where 
the power came from, how things became fecund. If you are going 
to generate life, you have to determine its principles and imitate 
the things that embody them. Organisms respond naturally to the 
sun, which gives heat and light, and find their richness in the earth, 
which produces food out of nothing — or rather out of its mysterious 
bowels. The Australian aborigines have an expression about the 
sun’s rays having intercourse with the earth. Very early man seems 
to have isolated the principles of fecundity and fertilization and 
tried to promote them by impersonating them. And so men identi- 
fied with the sky or the heavens, and the earth, and divided them- 
selves into heavenly people and earthly ones. Hocart sums it up 

In cosmic rites the whole world is involved, but in two parts, sky and 
earth, because all prosperity is conceived to be due to the orderly inter- 
action of sky and earth. The sky alone cannot create, nor the earth 
alone bring forth. Therefore in the ritual that regulates the world there 
must be two principles and they must be male and female, for the 
interplay of the earth and sky is analogous to the intercourse of sexes . 13 

The moieties stood for these opposing yet complementary principles. 
The world was divided not only into sky and earth but also into 
right and left, light and darkness, power and weakness — and even 
life and death . 14 The point was that reality in the round had to be 
represented in order for it to be controlled. The primitive knew 
that death was an important part of creation, and so he embodied 
death in order to control it. 

Modern man has long since abandoned the ritual renewal theory 
of nature, and reality for us is simply refusing to acknowledge that 
evil and death are constantly with us. With medical science we 
want to banish death, and so we deny it a place in our conscious- 
ness. We are shocked by the vulgarity of symbols of death and the 
devil and sexual intercourse in primitive ruins. But if your theory is 
to control by representation and imitation, then you have to in- 
clude all sides of life, not only the side that makes you comfortable 
or that seems purest. 


There are two words which sum up very nicely what the primitive 
was up to with his social representation of nature: “microcosmiza- 
tion” and “macrocosmization.” Although they sound technically 
forbidding, they express quite simple complementary maneuvers. 
In macrocosmization man simply takes himself or parts of himself 
and blows them up to cosmic importance. Thus the popular ancient 
pastime of entrail reading or liver reading: it was thought that the 
fate of the individual, or a whole army or a country, could be dis- 
cerned in the liver, which was conceived as a small-scale cosmos. 
The ancient Hindus, among others, looked at every part of man as 
having a correspondence in the macrocosm: the head corresponded 
to the sky, the eye to the sun, the breath to the wind, the legs to the 
earth, and so on. lr ’ With the universe reflected in his very body, the 
Hindu thus thought his life had the order of the cosmos. 

Microcosmization of the heavens is merely a reverse, comple- 
mentary movement. Man humanizes the cosmos by projecting all 
imaginable earthly things onto the heavens, in this way again 
intertwining his own destiny with the immortal stars. So, for ex- 
ample, animals were projected onto the sky, star formations were 
given animal shapes, and the zodiac was conceived. By man’s trans- 
ferring animals to heaven all human concerns took on a timelessness 
and a superhuman validity. 

The immortal stars came to preside over human destiny, and the 
fragile and ephemeral animal called man blew himself up to super- 
human size by making himself the center of things. Campsites and 
buildings were all laid out according to some kind of astronomical 
plan which intertwined human space with the immortal spheres. 
The place where the tribe lived was conceived as the navel of the 
universe where all creative powers poured forth. 

For those who want to investigate further the splendid literature 
on this topic. Rank brilliantly summed up in the 1930s the accumu- 
lation of the intensive research of the early decades of the century. 16 
All I want to do is to emphasize that by means of micro- and 
macrocosmization man humanized the heavens and spiritualized the 
earth and so melted sky and earth together in an inextricable unity. 
By opposing culture to nature in these ways, man allotted to him- 
self a special spiritual destiny, one that enabled him to transcend 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics lg 

his animal condition and assume a special status in nature. No 
longer was he an animal who died and vanished from the earth; 
he was a creator of life who could also give eternal life to himself 
by means of communal rituals of cosmic regeneration . 0 

And so we have come full circle in our overview of the primitive 
world. We started with the statement that primitive man used the 
dual organization to affirm his organismic self-feeling, and one of 
his principal means was the setting up of society in the form of 
organized rivalry. Now we can conclude that he in fact set up the 
whole cosmos in a way that allowed him to expand symbolically 
and to enjoy the highest organismic pleasures: he could blow the 
self-feeling of a mere organismic creature all the way up to the 
stars. The Egyptians hoped that when they died they would 
ascend to heaven and become stars and thus enjoy eternal 
significance in the scheme of things. This is already a comedown 
from what primitive social groupings enjoyed: the daily living of 
divine significance, the constant meddling into the realm of cosmic 
power. I said that primitive society was organized for contests and 
games, as Huizinga showed, but these were not games as we now 
think of them. They were games as children play them: they 
actually aimed to control nature, to make things come out as they 
wanted them. Ritual contests between moieties were a play of life 
against death, forces of light against forces of darkness. One side 
tried to thwart the ritual activities of the other and defeat it. But of 
course the side of life always contrived to win because by this 
victory primitive man kept nature going in the grooves he needed 
and wanted. If death and disease were overtaking a people, then 

* In anthropology Levi-Strauss has recently revived this opposition of cul- 
ture to nature, but he is somehow content to leave it as an intellectual 
problem. Whereas it is obvious — as it was to Rank and Van der Leeuw — 
that man has something great at stake in this °PP° s| uon. (j H . con t ro l an( j 
allaying of creature anxiety. Octavio Paz has understood how central the 
problem of overcoming death was to the primitive, and has criticized Levi- 
Strauss for completely glossing over the vital human motives for primitive man’s 
talent at symbolism. See O. Paz, Claude Levi-Strauss (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell 
University Press, 1970) and also the important attempt to reorient Levi- 
Strauss in the direction of the problem of death: J. Fabian, “How Others Die," 
in Arien Mack, ed., Social Research (a publication of the New School for 
Social Research), 1972, 39, number 3: 543-567. 



a ritually enacted reversal of death by a triumph of the life faction 
would, hopefully, set things right again . 17 * 

The Logic of Sacrifice 

At the center of the primitive technics of nature stands the act of 
sacrifice, which reveals the essence of the whole science of ritual; 
in a way we might see it as the atomic physics of the primitive 
world view. The sacrificer goes through the motions of performing 
in miniature the kind of arrangement of nature that he wants. He 
may use water, clay, and fire to represent the sea, earth, and sun, 
and he proceeds to set up the creation of the world. If he does 
things exactly as prescribed, as the gods did them in the beginning 
of time, then he gets control over the earth and creation. He can 
put vigor into animals, milk into females, and even arrange the 
order of society into castes, as in the Hindu ritual. 

In the Hindu ritual and in coronation rituals, this is the point at 
which the contest came in. In order to control nature, man must 
drive away evil — sickness and death. And so he must overcome 
demons and hostile forces. If he makes a slip in the ritual, it gives 
power to the demons. The ritual triumph is thus the winning of a 
contest with evil. When kings were to be crowned they had to 
prove their merit by winning out against the forces of evil; dice and 
chess probably had their origin as the way of deciding whether the 
king really could outwit and defeat the forces of darkness . 18 

We said earlier that western man did not understand this kind 
of technics and so he ridiculed it. Hocart comes back again and 
again to this point, that our notions of what is possible are not the 
same as those of archaic men. They believed that they could put 
vigor into the world by means of a ceremony, that they could create 

• We will see later, when we consider the historical evolution of evil, how 
fateful these ritual enactments were for the future of mankind. By opposing 
the forces of light and darkness, and by needing to make light triumph over 
dark, primitive man was obliged to give the ascendancy to the actors 
representing light and life. In this way, as we shall see, a natural inequality 
was built into social organization, ana as Hocart so superbly speculates, this 
gave rise to the evolution of privileged “pure” groups and outcast “evil” ones. 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 


an island, an abundance of creatures, keep the sun on its course, 
etc. ,u The whole thing seemed ridiculous to us because we looked 
only at the surface of it and did not see the logic behind it, the 
forces that were really at work according to the primitive’s under- 
standing of them. There is no point in my simply repeating Hocart’s 
penetrating analysis of the logic of the equivalence of the sacrificer 
and the universe . 20 The key idea underlying the whole thing is that 
as the sacrificer manipulates the altar and the victim, he becomes 
identified with them — not with them as things, but with the essences 
behind them, their invisible connection to the world of the gods 
and spirits, to the very insides of nature. And this too is logical. The 
primitive had a conceptualization of the insides of nature just as we 
do in our atomic theory. He saw that things were animated by in- 
visible forces, that the sun’s heat worked at a distance and per- 
vaded the things of the earth, that seeds germinated out of the 
invisible as did children, etc. All he wanted to do, with the tech- 
nique of sacrifice, was to take possession of these invisible forces 
and use them for the benefit of the community . 21 He had no need 
for missile launchers and atomic reactors; sacrificial altar mounds 
served his purposes well. 

In a word, the act of sacrifice established a footing in the in- 
visible dimension of reality; this permitted the sacrificer to build a 
divine body, a mystical, essential self that had superhuman powers. 
Hocart warns us that if we think this is so foreign to our own 
traditional ways of thinking, we should look closely at the Christian 
communion. By performing the prescribed rites the communicant 
unites himself with Christ — the sacrifice — who is God, and in this 
way the worshiper accrues to himself a mystical body or soul which 
has immortal life. Everything depends on the prescribed ritual, 
which puts one in possession of the power of eternity by union with 
the sacrifice. 


What I have done in these few pages is to try to show that primitive 
society was organized for a certain kind of production of life, a 



ritual technique of manufacture of the things of the world that used 
the dimension of the invisible. Man used his ingenuity to Ell his 
stomach, to get control of nature for the benefit of his organism; 
this is only logical and natural. But this stomach-centered character- 
istic of all culture is something we easily lose sight of. One reason 
is that man was never content to just stop at food: he wanted more 
life in the widest sense of the term — exactly what we would expect 
an organism to want if it could somehow contrive to be self- 
conscious about life and death and the need to continue experienc- 
ing . 22 Food is only one part of that quest; man quickly saw beyond 
mere physical nourishment and had to conceive ways to qualify 
for immortality. In this way the simple food quest was transmuted 
into a quest for spiritual excellence, for goodness and purity. All 
of man’s higher spiritual ideals were a continuation of the original 
quest for energy-power. Nietzsche was one of the first to state this 
blatantly, and he shocked the world with it: that all morality is 
fundamentally a matter of power, of the power of organisms to 
continue existing by reaching for a superhuman purity. It is all 
right for man to talk about spiritual aims; what he really means is 
aims for merits that qualify him for eternity. This too, of course, is 
the logical development of organismic ambitions. 

Hocart ends his noted work Kingship with just such a com- 
mentary on the evolution of spirituality out of the simple quest for 
physical life: 

Thus the sacrificial lamb is no longer the young of an ewe slaughtered 
at the Paschal Feast as the embodiment of some god in order to promote 
the life of the crops, but a symbol expressing ... a sum of innocence, 
purity, gentleness, self-sacrifice, redemption and divinity. . . . Doubtless 
many will be scandalized at any attempt to derive the cure of souls 
from the cravings of the stomach. . . . Even so the rising generation may 
find cause not for anger, but for wonder, in the rapidity with which Man, 
so late emerged from the brute, has proceeded from the conquest of 
matter to that of the spirit . 23 

No one would dare gainsay the profoundly unselfish and spiritual 
emotions that man is capable of. As a creature he is most attuned to 
the living miracle of the cosmos and responds to that miracle with 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 23 

a fineness and a nobility that are in themselves wondrous; the whole 
thing is surely part of a divine mystery. But the step from the 
stomach quest to the spiritual one is not in itself as idealistic as 
Hocart would seem to make out. The earning of spiritual points is 
the initial impetus of the search for purity, however much some 
few noble souls might transmute that in an unselfish direction. For 
most men faith in spirituality is merely a step into continued life, 
the exact extension of the organismic stomach project. 

There is a small debate being aired in certain circles of anthro- 
pology today about the many ways in which primitive life was 
superior to our own. Levi-Strauss himself has taken a stand in favor 
of the primitive. 24 I don’t want to go into the pros and cons of it 
and the many subtle and valid arguments produced on both sides. 
But it does help us to understand the primitive world if we agree 
to the old anthropological tenet about “the psychic unity of man- 
kind” — that is, that man everywhere, no matter how exotic a 
particular culture, is basically standard vintage Homo sapiens, 
interchangeable in his nature and motives with any other human 
being. This is what the whole movement to rehabilitate the primi- 
tive — from Hocart to Levi-Strauss — has been about; to show that 
he is basically no different from ourselves and certainly not inferior 
mentally or emotionally. Well, having agreed that the primitive 
is no worse than we are, it might be in order to add that he is no 
better. Otherwise, as we shall see, we cannot really understand 
what happened in history, unless we try to make out that a different 
animal developed, nor can we understand the problems of modern 
society, unless we pretend that modern man is a wholly degenerate 
type of Homo sapiens. 

What I am saying is that if modern man seems mad in his ob- 
session to control nature by technology, primitive man was no less 
obsessed by his own mystical technics of sacrifice. After all, one 
of the things we have learned from the modem study of mental 
illness is that to make the body the referent of the whole cosmos 
is a technique of madness. 23 It is true that by institutionalizing 
macrocosmization, primitive man made it a normal way of referring 
oneself to transcendent events. But this kind of “normality” is itself 
unreal, it blows man up to an abnormal size, and so we are right 
to consider it self-defeating, a departure from the truth of the 



human condition. If the primitive was not less intelligent, he was 
equally not less intent on self-perpetuation. When we “step off’ 
into history, we seem to see a type of man who is more driven — 
but this is only because he started off already obsessed with control 
and with a hunger for immortality. It is true that primitive man 
was kinder to nature, that he did not cause the kind of destructive- 
ness we are causing and, in fact, did not seem capable of our kind 
of casual disregard for the bounty of the natural world. It would 
take a lot of study and compilation of comparative data to bear 
these impressions out, but I think that if primitive man was kinder 
to nature, it was not because he was innately different in his 
emotional sensitivity nor more altruistic toward other living forms 
than we are. I think, rather, that it was because his technics of 
manipulation was less destructive. He needed a tree, the spirit of an 
animal or plant, the sacrifice of one animal of a species. As we shall 
see, we grind up astronomically larger quantities of life, but it is 
in the same spirit and for the same basic reasons. If we talk about 
a certain primitive quality of “reverence” for life, we must be very 
careful. The primitives’ attitude toward animals considered sacred 
was sometimes more cruel than our own is. They did not hesitate 
to sacrifice those whom they considered their benefactors or their 
gods, or even hesitate to kill their chiefs and kings. The main value 
was whether this brought life to the community and whether the 
ritual demanded it . 20 Man has always casually sacrificed life for 
more life. 

Probably more to the point, man has always treated with con- 
sideration and respect those parts of the natural world over which 
he has had no control. As soon as he was sure of his powers, his 
respect for the mystery of what he faced diminished. Hocart makes 
a telling point about the evolution of man’s attitude toward animals: 

As his superiority and mastery over the rest of the living world became 
more and more apparent he seems to have become more and more 
anxious to disclaim relationship with animals, especially when worship 
became associated with respect. There is no objection to an animal’s 
being the object of a cult when this does not imply respect but is merely 
a procedure for causing the animal to multiply. It is a very different 
thing when ritual becomes worship; man is loath to abase himself be- 
fore an animal . 27 

The Primitive World: Ritual as Practical Technics 25 

Hocart attributes this to "the growing conceit of man.” But we 
could just as well see it as a result of natural narcissism. Each 
organism preens itself on the specialness of the life that throbs 
within it, and is ready to subordinate all others to its own continua- 
tion. Man was always conceited; he only began to show his destruc- 
tive side to the rest of nature when the ritual technology of the 
spiritual production of animals was superseded by other technol- 
ogies. The unfolding of history is precisely the saga of the succession 
of new and different ideologies of organismic self-perpetuation — 
and the new injustices and heightened destructiveness of historical 
man. Let us turn to this. 


The Primitive World: 
Economics as Expiation and Power 

Now that we have talked about how primitive man created or 
helped create natural bounty, we have to look at what he did with 
this bounty, how he applied his concept of the natural order of 
things in daily life in addition to performing it in ritual. When we 
put these two aspects together, they give us a fairly complete 
picture of primitive society, of how man lived through long periods 
of prehistory. 

It often happens that we get our most important insights from 
people outside a field, and anthropology is no exception. Huizinga, 
as mentioned, is one such outsider who has helped us understand 
primitive society. Norman O. Brown is another; his analysis of 
primitive economics literally brims with insights . 1 What makes his 
discussion so seminal is that he has combined essential, often 
overlooked work from classical anthropology and psychoanalysis in 
his analysis of economic motives. But his psychoanalysis, unlike 
Roheim’s, is not the dogmatic Freudian kind, and it has not been 
brought to bear on primitive society in order to prove Freud right . 2 
The whole burden of Brown’s argument is to show that economic 
activity itself, from the dawn of human society to the present time, 
is sacred to the core . 3 It is not a rational, secular activity designed 
simply to meet human survival needs. Or, better, it is not only 
that, never was, and never will be. If it were, how explain man’s 
drive to create a surplus, from the very beginning of society to the 
present? How explain man’s willingness to forgo pleasure, to deny 
himself, in order to produce beyond his capacity to consume? 
Why do people work so hard to create useless goods when they 
already have enough to eat? We know that primitives amassed 
huge piles of food and other goods often only to ceremoniously 
destroy them, just as we continue to do. We know that many of 


The Primitive World: Economics as Expiation and Power <rj 

their choicest trade items, such as bits of amber, were entirely 
superfluous; that many of their most valuable economic possessions 
created with painstaking labors were practically useless, e.g., the 
big ceremonial axe-blade of the Trobriands. And finally we know 
that historically this creation of useless goods got out of hand and 
led to the present plight of men — immersed in a horizon of pol- 
luting junk, besieged by social injustice and class and race op- 
pression, haves and have-nots, all grasping, fighting, shoving, not 
knowing how they got into their abysmal condition or what it all 
means. Let us now tum to what is probably one of the most vital 
chapters in man’s self-understanding. 

Economics as Expiation 

What was the “economic” activity most characteristic of primitive 
society? Marcel Mauss revealed it a half century ago in his famous 
study The Gift.* There he showed, from a sample of many diverse 
societies, that the giving of gifts between groups and individuals 
was the heart of archaic social systems. On the primitive level we 
see compellingly that social life is a continual dialogue of gift 
giving and counter gift giving. 

To the anthropological observer the thing was simply marvelous: 
goods were shared and freely given; men observed the principle 
of social reciprocity and respected social obligations to the letter. 
When there was food, there was food for all; the hunter who 
killed the game distributed it with pride and often took the least 
desirable part of the animal for himself. As Brown says, this was 
the core of truth in the myth of primitive communism. If someone 
had something you wanted, you asked for it and received it. But 
often this continuous gift giving and taking seemed to the western 
observer to be perverse; a native would work very hard at the 
trading post to earn a shirt, and when he came back a week later 
someone else would be wearing it. Westerners could only think 
that this represented a basic lack of responsibility, a kind of simple- 
mindedness. It is so alien to our “I got mine — you get yours” 
philosophy. Or more alarmingly, missionaries would find that na- 



fives came to their hut and simply took valuable knives, guns, 
clothes, etc., without so much as a “thank you,” as though these 
were coming to them. 

How could traders, missionaries, and administrators understand 
something that often eluded anthropologists themselves: that primi- 
tive man did not act out of economic principles, that the process 
of freely giving and receiving was embedded in a much larger, 
much more important cosmology, that since the white man had 
destroyed the old gods and replaced them, he had to give freely 
just as the gods had done. Primitive life was openly immersed in 
debt, in obligation to the invisible powers, the ancestors, the dead 
souls; the group lived partly by drawing its powers from the non- 
living. Unlike us, primitives knew the truth of man’s relation to 
nature: nature gives freely of its bounty to man — this was the 
miracle for which to be grateful and beholden and give to the 
gods of nature in return. Whatever one received was already a gift, 
and so to keep things in balance one had to give in return — to 
one another and, by offerings, to the spirits. The gods existed in 
order to receive gifts. This helps us understand why primitive 
society seems so “masochistic” to us in its willing submission to 
nature and to dead spirits. It had found the perfect formula for 
keeping things in balance: 

In the archaic consciousness the sense of indebtedness exists together 
with the illusion that the debt is payable; the gods exist to make the 
debt payable. Hence the archaic economy is embedded in religion, 
limited by the religious framework, and mitigated by the consolations 
of religion — above all, removal of indebtedness and guilt . 5 

And this explains too the thing that has puzzled thinkers since 
the beginning of the study of man: why weren’t natives content 
to live in the primitive “paradise,” why couldn’t man simply relax 
and consume nature’s bounty, why was he driven from the very 
beginning to develop a surplus beyond basic human needs? The 
answer is that primitive man created an economic surplus so that 
he would have something to give to the gods; the giving of the 
surplus was an offering to the gods who controlled the entire 
economy of nature in the first place, and so man needed to give 

The Primitive World: Economics as Expiation and Power 29 

precisely in order to keep himself immersed in the cosmology of 
obligation and expiation. The ceremonial destruction of mountains 
of precious food was just that: a ceremonial, religious act. The 
painstaking fabrication of charms or the dangerous hunting down 
of rare objects like whale’s teeth represented the sweat of one’s 
brow for the most vital motive man knew: to keep the cycle of 
power moving from the invisible to the visible world. When man 
gives, “the stream of life continues to flow,” as Van der Leeuw so 
beautifully summed it up in his classic study of primitive ideas. 8 
In order to understand this, we have to abandon our own notions 
of what a gift is. It is not a bribe by one who is a stranger to 
you and simply wants to “get in good” with you, or by a loved 
one who wants to draw close to you or even selflessly give you 

Economics as Power 

In the first place, for the primitive the gift was a part of the stream 
of nature’s bounty. Many people today think that the primitive 
saw the world more under the aspect of miracle and awe than 
we do, and so he appreciated elemental things more than we do. 
In order to recapture this way of looking at nature, we modems 
usually have to experience a breakdown and rebirth into naive 
perception. So, for example, when Hamann was asked what Chris- 
tianity meant to him, he said it was a search for the elements of 
bread and wine. But we don’t need to romanticize about the 
primitive (whether truly or not) in order to understand his valu- 
ation of nature’s bounty. We saw that the main organismic motive 
was self-perpetuation; it is logical that when self-perpetuation 
became a conscious problem at the level of man he naturally 
tended to value those things that gave him the power to endure, 
those things that incorporated the sun’s energy and that gave 
warmth and life. Food is a sacred element because it gives the 
power of life. The original sacrifice is always food because this is 
what one wants from the gods as the basis for life. “Give us our 
daily bread. . . .” Furthermore, if food contains power, it is always 



more than itself, more than a physical thing: it has a mysterious 
inner essence or spirit. Milk is the essence of the cow, shark’s teeth 
are the essence of the shark’s vitality and murderousness, etc. So 
when primitive man gave these things as gifts, he did not give a 
dead thing, a mere object as it appears to us — but a piece of life, 
of spirit, even a part of himself because he was immersed in the 
stream of life. The gifts had mana power, the strength of super- 
natural life. 

This is what made the bond and allowed the stream to flow 
between giver and receiver: to give and then to counter-give kept 
the motion going, preserved the cycle of power. This is how we 
are to understand the potlatch giving and oneupmanship, the de- 
struction of quantities of goods: the eternal flux of power in the 
broad stream of life was generated by the greatest possible ex- 
penditure; man wanted that stream to flow as bountifully as pos- 
sible . 7 It then became hard to distinguish who gave and who 
received, since all were bathed in the power of the movement: 
everyone participated in the powers that were opened up — the 
giver, the community, the gods. “I give you power so that you may 
have power.” The more you give, the more everyone gets. 

This feeling of expenditure as power is not strange to us modems 
either. We want to keep our goods moving with the same obses- 
sive dedication — cars, refrigerators, homes, money. We feel that 
there is health and strength in the world if the economy moves, if 
there is a frenzy of buying and trading on the stock market, 
activity in the banks; and this is not only because the movement 
of goods piles up money in the bank, but actually reflects, I think, 
the sense of trust and security that the magical free-enterprise 
powers are working for us so long as we continue to buy, sell, and 
move goods. The Soviets are experiencing the same thing: the 
sense of exhilaration and self-celebration in the movement of pro- 
duction and consumption of goods. Like the primitive, modern 
man feels that he can prosper only if he shows that he already 
has power. Yet of course in its one-dimensionality this is a cari- 
cature on the primitive potlatch, as most of modem power ideology 
is; it has no anchor in the invisible world, in the deference to the 
gods. Primitive man gave to the gods. Hocart sees this as the 
origin of trade: the fact that one group made offerings to the gods 

The Primitive World: Economics as Expiation and Power 31 

of their kinsmen and vice versa. This led to the exchange of dif- 
ferent stuffs between different groups, and in it we see the direct 
motive of the creation of a surplus for exchange. The exchange of 
offerings was always a kind of contest — who could give the most 
to the gods of their kinsmen. We can see what this did for a 
person: it gave him a contest in which he could be victorious if 
his offerings of surplus exceeded those of the other clan. In a 
word, it gave him cosmic heroism, the distinction of releasing the 
most power in nature for the benefit of all. He was a hero in the 
eyes not only of the gods but also of men; he earned social honor, 
“the right to crow.” 8 He was a “big power” man. Thus we can see 
in gift giving and potlatch the continuation of the triumph of the 
hunter, but now in the creation and distribution of one’s own 
fabricated surplus. Roheim very aptly called this state of things 
“narcissistic capitalism": the equation of wealth with magic power. 9 
And so all this seemingly useless surplus, dangerously and pains- 
takingly wrought, yields the highest usage of all in terms of power. 
Man, the animal who knows he is not safe here, who needs con- 
tinued affirmation of his powers, is the one animal who is im- 
placably driven to work beyond animal needs precisely because he 
is not a secure animal. The origin of human drivenness is religious 
because man experiences creatureliness; the amassing of a surplus, 
then, goes to the very heart of human motivation, the urge to 
stand out as a hero, to transcend the limitations of the human 
condition and achieve victory over impotence and finitude. 

We see, too, as Brown says, that in the strict utilitarian sense in 
which we understand the term, primitive “work” cannot be eco- 
nomic; for instance, our “common ownership” and “collective en- 
terprise” in which the person is a “partner” do not do justice to 
the multidimensionality of the primitive world. Primitive man 
worked so that he could win a contest in which the offering was 
made to the gods; he got spiritual merit for his labors. I suppose 
early Calvinism was an echo of this performance for the eyes of 
men and the gods, but without the continual giving, the redistri- 
bution of the most precious goods. “Big men” in primitive society 
were those who gave away the most, had nothing for themselves. 
Sometimes a chief would even offer his own life to appease an 
injured party in a quarrel; his role was often nothing else than 



to be a vehicle for the smooth flow of life in the tribe. (The 
resemblance to historical Calvinism ends abruptly at this kind of 
performance for spiritual merit.) This reveals a central fact about 
social life: primitive man immersed himself in a network of social 
obligations for psychological reasons. Just as Rank said, man has 
to have a core psychological motive for being in the group in the 
first place, otherwise he would not be a group-living animal. Or 
as Brown, who likes to call a spade a spade, put it, “man entered 
social organization in order to share guilt. Social organization . . . 
is a structure of shared guilt ... a symbolic mutual confession of 
guilt .” 10 And so in one sweep we can understand how primitive 
economics is inexorably sacred, communal, and yet psychologically 
motivated at the same time. 

The Nature of Guilt 

But this kind of picture risks putting primitive man even further 
beyond our comprehension, even though it seems logically to ex- 
plain what he was doing. The problem is in the key motive, guilt. 
Unless we have a correct feeling for what guilt is, what the ex- 
perience of it means, the sacred nature of primitive economics may 
escape us. We may even prefer our illusionless “economic man” 
to the “pitiful” primitives — and this result will entirely undo 
Brown’s thesis. But he himself is in some measure to blame. He 
draws partly on Nietzsche and Freud, and some of their scorn of 
guilt as a weakness seems to have rubbed off on him. Even more 
seriously, by his own admission he does not have any theory of 
the nature of guilt (“Whatever the ultimate explanation of guilt 
may be . . .”) u even though he bases his whole argument on it. 
When he does offer one explanation, he makes of guilt a simple 
reflex of the repression of enjoyment — something for which he has 
already so well castigated Freud in discussing the problem of 
anality: “The repression of full enjoyment in the present inevitably 
releases aggression against those ancestors out of love of whom 
the repression was instituted. Aggression against those simulta- 
neously loved is guilt .” 12 

This is one explanation of guilt that comes from psychoanalysis: 

The Primitive World: Economics as Expiation and Power 33 

the child in his boundless desires for gratification can’t help feeling 
love for those who respond to him; at the same time, when they 
inevitably frustrate him for his own good, he can’t help feeling 
hate and destructive impulses toward them, which puts him in an 
impossible bind. The bind is one kind of guilt, but only one aspect 
of the total bind of life which constitutes the immense burden of 
guilt on the human psyche.* 

One of the reasons guilt is so difficult to analyze is that it is 
itself “dumb.” It is a feeling of being blocked, limited, transcended, 
without knowing why. It is the peculiar experience of an organism 
which can apprehend a totality of things and not be able to move 
in relation to it. Man experiences this uniquely as a feeling of the 
crushing awesomeness of things and his helplessness in the face 
of them. This real guilt partly explains man’s willing subordinacy 
to his culture; after all, the world of men is even more dazzling 
and miraculous in its richness than the awesomeness of nature. 
Also, subordinacy comes naturally from man’s basic experiences of 
being nourished and cared for; it is a logical response to social 
altruism. Especially when one is sick or injured, he experiences 
the healing forces as coming from the superordinate cultural system 
of tools, medicines, and the hard-won skills of persons. An attitude 
of humble gratitude is a logical one to assume toward the forces 
that sustain one’s life; we see this very plainly in the learning and 
development of children. 

Another reason that guilt is so diffuse is that it is many different 
things: there are many different binds in life. One can be in a 
bind in relation to one’s own development, can feel that one has 
not achieved all one should have. One can be in a bind in relation 
to one’s body, which is the guilt of anality: to feel bound and 
doomed by one’s physical appendages and orifices. Man also ex- 
periences guilt because he takes up space and has unintended 
effects on others — for example, when we hurt others without in- 
tending to, just by being what we are or by following our natural 
desires and appetites, not to mention when we hurt others physi- 
cally by accident or thoughtlessness. This, of course, is part of the 
guilt of our bodies, which have effects that we do not intend in 

• Here I am obliged to repeat things I have written elsewhere on guilt 
partly because they are essential to understanding the primitive and partly 
becausefihe Brown, I am having a dialogue with myself. 



our inner selves. To use Rank’s happy phrase, this is guilt we feel 
for being a “fate-creating” object . 13 We feel guilt in relation to 
what weighs on us, a weight that we sense is more than we can 
handle, and so our wives and children are a burden of guilt because 
we cannot possibly foresee and handle all the accidents, sicknesses, 
etc., that can happen to them; we feel limited and bowed down, 
we can’t be as carefree and self-expansive as we would like, the 
world is too much with us . 14 

If we feel guilt when we have not developed our potential, we 
also are put into a bind by developing too much. Our own unique- 
ness becomes a burden to us; we “stick out” more than we can 
safely manage. Guilt makes sense in relation to evolution itself. Man 
is on the “cutting edge” of evolution; he is the animal whose 
development is not prefigured by instincts, and so he is open to 
becoming what he can. This means literally that each person is 
already somewhat “ahead of himself” simply by virtue of being 
human and not animal. No wonder people have almost universally 
feared the “evil eye” in traditional society; it expresses a natural 
and age-old reaction to making oneself too prominent, detaching 
oneself too much from the background of things. In traditional 
Jewish culture, for example, each time the speaker made a favorable 
remark about the health or achievement of someone dear to him, 
he immediately followed this remark with the invocation “Kein 
Ayin-Hara” (no evil eye), as if to say “may this good fortune and 
prominence not be undone by being too conspicuous.” Some indi- 
viduals achieve an intensity of individuation in which they stick out 
so far that almost each day is an unbearable exposure. But even 
the average person in any society is already more of an individual 
than any animal can be; the testimonial to this is in the human 
face, which is the most individuated animal expression in nature. 
Faces fascinate us precisely because they are unique, because they 
stick out of nature and evolution as the most fully developed 
expression of the pushing of the life force in the intensity of its 
self-realization. We don’t understand why the life force is person- 
alizing in this way, what it is trying to achieve; but we flatly know 
that it is personalizing because we have our heads and faces as 
empirical testimony, and as a burden of guilt. We might say that 
the development of life is life’s own burden. 

The Primitive World: Economics as Expiation and Power 35 

I linger on these ontological thoughts for a very good reason: 
they tell us what is bothering us deep down. If your face is the 
most individual part of nature, and if its sticking out is a burden 
to you because you are an embodiment of the cutting edge of 
evolution and are no longer safely tucked into the background of 
nature — if this is so, then it follows that it is dangerous to have a 
head. And I think mankind has always recognized this implicitly, 
especially on primitive levels of experience. I believe Levin is right 
when he says that “it is a crime to own a head” in society; histori- 
cally societies have not tolerated too much individuation, especially 
on primitive levels. And Levin may even have something when he 
adds that this is the simplest explanation of head-hunting. 15 Well, 
there can be no one explanation for the widespread passion for 
head-hunting; 16 but probably the underlying thing that the various 
forms of head-taking have in common is that the head is prized as 
a trophy precisely because it is the most personal part, the one that 
juts most prominently out of nature. In some sense, too, head- 
hunting may be a way of projecting onto others one’s own guilt 
for sticking out so much, so that their heads are taken as scapegoats 
to atone for the guilt. It is as if to say, “This will teach you to 
stick out so blatantly.” Certainly we feel something of this in 
societies in which decapitation as punishment was practiced and 
the heads were publicly displayed. This was a destruction of in- 
dividuality at its most intensive point, and so a vindication of the 
pool of faces of the community whose laws had been transgressed. 
If we extend these thoughts one logical step, we can understand 
a basic psychoanalytic idea that otherwise seems ridiculous: “in 
the eyes of culture, to live is a crime.” 17 In other words, to live 
is to stick out, to go beyond safe limits; hence it is to court danger, 
to be a locus of the possibility of disaster for the group. 

If we take all this into view, we should find more palatable to 
our understanding what Brown meant when he said that social 
organization was a structure of shared guilt, a symbolic mutual 
confession of it. Mankind has so many things that put it into a 
bind that it simply cannot stand them unless it expiates them in 
some way. Each person cannot stand his own emergence and the 
many ways in which his organism is dumbly baffled from within 
and transcended from without. Each person would literally be 



pulled off his feet and blown away or would gnaw away his own 
insides with acid anxiety if he did not tuck himself back into 
something. This is why the main general characteristic of guilt is 
that it must be shared: man cannot stand alone. And this is pre- 
cisely what Brown means when he says, “Archaic man gives be- 
cause he wants to lose; the psychology is . . . self-sacrificial . . . 
what the giver wants to lose is guilt .” 1 s Or, metaphorically, “In 
the gift complex dependence on the mother is acknowledged, and 
then overcome by mothering others .” 19 Society, in other words, is a 
dramatization of dependence and an exercise in mutual safety by 
the one animal in evolution who had to figure out a way of ap- 
peasing himself as well as nature. We can conclude that primitives 
were more honest about these things — about guilt and debt — 
because they were more realistic about man’s desperate situation 
vis-a-vis nature. Primitive man embedded social life in a sacred 
matrix not necessarily because he was more fearful or masochistic 
than men in later epochs, but because he saw reality more clearly 
in some basic ways . 20 

Once we acknowledge this, we have to be careful not to make 
too much of it; I mean that group living through the motive of 
guilt is not all humble and self-effacing. As we saw in our consid- 
eration of gift giving, not only expiation but the blatant affirmation 
of power is a primary impetus behind it. If guilt is the experience 
of fear and powerlessness, then immersing oneself in a group is 
one way of actively defeating it: groups alone can make big sur- 
plus, can generate extravagant power in the form of large harvests, 
the capture of dangerous animals and many of them, the manu- 
facture of splendid and intricate items based on sophisticated 
techniques, etc. From the beginning of time the group has repre- 
sented big power, big victory, much life. 

Heroism and Repentance: The Two Sides of Man 

If we thus look at both sides of the picture of guilt, we can see 
that primitive man allocated to himself the two things that man 
needs most: the experience of prestige and power that constitutes 

The Primitive World: Economics as Expiation and Power 37 

man a hero, and the experience of expiation that relieves him of 
the guilt of being human. The gift complex took care of both these 
things superlatively. Man worked for economic surplus of some 
kind in order to have something to give. In other words, he 
achieved heroism and expiation at the same time, like the dutiful 
son who brings home his paper-route earnings and puts them in 
the family coffer. He protruded out of nature and tucked himself 
in with the very same gesture, a gesture of heroism-expiation. Man 
needs self-esteem more than anything; he wants to be a cosmic 
hero, contributing with his energies to nothing less than the great- 
ness and pleasure of the gods themselves. At the same time this 
risks inflating him to proportions he cannot stand; he becomes too 
much like the gods themselves, and he must renounce this dan- 
gerous power. Not to do so is to be unbalanced, to run the great 
sin of hubris as the Greeks understood it. Hubris means forgetting 
where the real source of power lies and imagining that it is in 
oneself. 21 


The Origin of Inequality 

If there is a class which has nothing to lose but its 
chains, the chains that bind it are self-imposed, 
sacred obligations which appear as objective 
realities with all the force of a neurotic delusion. 

Norman O. Brown 1 

The origin of inequality among men! This was the question that 
excited thinkers of the eighteenth century as they combed the globe 
trying to find humanity in an uncorrupted state. From the early 
voyages and early anthropology they already saw that primitive 
society was fairly egalitarian, that compared to the civilized world 
of that time primitives lived what seemed an unspoiled, undriven 
sort of life, and one that took very little toll on the world around 
them. It was the same kind of world that Levi-Strauss set out to 
find in the Amazon a couple of centuries later and for which he 
wrote the same kind of epitaph as the earlier observers had: A 
World on the Wane. 2 

Nobody was very happy with the way history and civilization 
had turned out, and many thinkers of that time supposed that if 
the first steps in the process of the oppression of man by man 
could be pinpointed, then the decay of civilization might be ar- 
rested and even reversed. They believed that if man could be 
shown how he got into his deplorable condition, he would make 
every intelligent, scientific effort to get out of it. They supposed 
too that there was nothing naturally evil in man’s nature that would 
prevent him from being able to build a new social world, once 
he understood the reasons for the mess he was in. 

The great Rousseau, with his uncanny intuition of what was sig- 
nificant, began it all with his famous “Discourse on the Origin and 
Foundations of Inequality among Men” (1755). 3 In that essay he 


The Origin of Inequality 39 

reasoned out how man had gradually fallen from his primitive state 
of innocence into the conflicts of classes and states. The whole 
story of the influence of Rousseau’s ideas is well known and I am 
not going to repeat it here. All I want to do is to remind the reader 
that Rousseau failed to bring about what he hoped for, and so 
too did the whole tradition which followed him; and I want to 
sum up why it failed. 

The Marxist tradition seized on Rousseau’s work because it was 
exactly what the Marxists needed: the accusation that the state 
acted tyrannically to hold men in bondage, deprived them of the 
fruits of their labors, and distributed these fruits mostly among 
the elite. They attempted to remind society of man’s concern for 
his fellows before the exploitation began and said that once man 
understood that he had the right to enjoy the fruits of meaningful 
labor, he would rise up and break the shackles which enslaved 
him. This was the message of the great Manifesto, the authority 
for the massive revolutions of this century. 

But the great disillusionment of our time is that none of this has 
led to the liberation of man. Masses of people are still being treated 
like masses instead of persons, still being sent off like puppets to 
war, and still slaving all day for purposes they did not fashion or 
control. In a word, the great revolutions of our time, directed 
against the state as a structure of domination, have not led to 
the disappearance of the state, and so they have not led to human 
equality and freedom. 

What went wrong? Obviously something with the plans on the 
original drawing board; Rousseau’s answer to the question posed 
by the Academy of Dijon was not complete or was beside the 
mark. We have had to conclude that the question of the origin of 
inequality among men was not answered by the Marxist tradition. 
This great historical realization is what prompted the work of the 
leading school of sociology of our time — the Frankfurt school — a 
work dedicated to going beyond Marx to a new synthesis: a merger 
of the materialist and psychological levels of explanation, “the union 
of Marx and Freud.” 

If it is not only power and coercion that enslave man, then 
there must be something in his nature that contributes to his down- 
fall; since this is so, the state is not man’s first and only enemy, 



but he himself harbors an “enemy within.” Brown put the problem 
very well : 

We are here at one of the ultimate crossroads in social theory. ... If 
the cause of the trouble were force, to “expropriate the expropriators” 
would be enough. But if force did not establish the domination of the 
master, then perhaps the slave is somehow in love with his own chains 
... a deeper psychological malady. . . . 4 

Let us review what we know about this “deeper malady.” It is a 
fascinating chapter of psychology in the history of the origins of 
our inequality. 

Curiously, Rousseau himself gave one of the very first psycho- 
logical explanations in his famous essay. In the famous words which 
stirred revolutionaries for two centuries he said: 

The first person who, having fenced off a plot of ground, took it into 
his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe 
him, was the true founder of civil society . 5 

In other words, primitive equality was ended by private property, 
which led to the differential personal ownership of wealth. But the 
point is that Rousseau doesn’t say that the person took the land by 
force, but rather because of something in the minds of those around 
him. As he outlines his theory of the origin of inequality, he places 
wealth at the last stage and “personal qualities” at the first stage: 
it is personal qualities that give rise to distinctions of rank and 
power, and "wealth is the last to which they are reduced in the 
end .” 6 Personal qualities are “the only ones which could attract 

The one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, 
the most adroit, or the most eloquent became the most highly considered; 
and that was the first step toward inequality. . . . 7 

It is perhaps an irony of history that one of the very first and 
most influential tracts of modern revolutionaries, a tract that gave 
the antistatists their clarion call to end the abuses of expropriation 
and inequality, itself rests on the personal, psychological reasons 

The Origin of Inequality 41 

for the very first step in the origin of inequality. Social imbalances 
occur because of differences in personal merit and the recognition 
of that merit by others. Shortly after Rousseau wrote, Adam Fergu- 
son came out with his famous work on social history where he too 
argued that social inequality was relatively absent on primitive 
levels because property was comparatively absent. 8 In the most 
egalitarian primitive societies, those whose economy is based on 
hunting and gathering, there is no distinction of rank, little or no 
authority of one individual over another. Possessions are simple 
and there is no real difference in wealth; property is distributed 
equally. Yet even on this level individual differences are recognized 
and already make for real social differentiation. If there is little 
or no authority to coerce others, there is much room for influence, 
and influence always stems from personal qualities: extra skill in 
hunting and warfare, in dealing with the spirits in the invisible 
world, or simply physical strength and endurance. Old age itself 
can often have influence. If a person has outlived others, especially 
when so many die prematurely, he is often thought to have special 

Skilled hunters and warriors could actually display these special 
powers in the form of trophies and ornamental badges of merit. 
The scalps of the slain enemies and the teeth, feathers, and other 
ornaments were often loaded with magical power and served as 
protection. If a man wore a large number of trophies and badges 
showing how much power he had and how great were his exploits, 
he became a great mana figure who literally struck terror into the 
hearts of his enemies. 9 The elaborate decorations of the warrior 
and hunter were not aimed to make him beautiful, but to show 
off his skill and courage and so inspired fear and respect. This 
gave him automatic social distinction; by wearing the tokens of his 
achievements, the visible memories of his bravery and excellence, 
he could flaunt his superiority in the eyes of everyone who couldn’t 
make similar displays. The Sioux could announce by certain decora- 
tions on his moccassins how many horses he had captured, enemies 
killed, whether the warrior himself had been wounded, etc.; similar 
things were conveyed by the feathers he wore and the color they 
were dyed. Among other tribes, war exploits entitled the warrior 
to mark himself with certain scarifications and tattoos. Each war- 



rior was literally a walking record of his military campaigns: the 
“fruit salad” on the chest of today’s military men is a direct de- 
scendant of this public announcement of “see who I am because 
of where I have been and what I have done; look how accom- 
plished I am as a death dealer and death defier.” It is of course 
less concrete and living than actual facial and shoulder scars or 
the carrying of scalps which included the forehead and eyes. But 
it gives the right to the same kind of proud strutting and social 
honor and the typical question that the primitive warrior asks: 
“Who are you that you should talk? Where are your tattoo marks? 
Whom have you killed that you should speak to me?” 10 

These people, then, are honored and respected or feared, and 
this is what gives them influence and power. Not only that, it also 
gives them actual benefits and privileges. Remember that as chil- 
dren we not only deferred to the outstanding boy in the neigh- 
borhood but also gave him large chunks of our candy. Primitives 
who distinguished themselves by personal exploits got the thing 
that grown men want most — wives. They got them more easily than 
did others, and often, especially if they were skilled hunters, they 
took more than one wife. In some cases, too, a noted hunter would 
claim as his special hunting preserve a piece of land that was 
common property of the tribe. 11 And so on. 

I don’t intend to even try to sum up the theoretical details from 
the vast literature on the growth of hereditary privilege and private 
accumulation. Besides, there is little agreement on how exactly 
class society came into existence. There is general agreement on 
what preclass society was, but the process of transformation is 
shrouded in mystery. Many different factors contributed, and it is 
impossible to pull them apart and give them their proper weight. 
Also, the process would not have been uniform or unilinear — the 
same for all societies in all areas. If we add psychological factors 
to materialist ones, we must also now add ecological and demo- 
graphic factors such as population density and scarcity of re- 
sources. 12 I don’t want to pop my head into the argument among 
authorities lest it get neatly sliced off. So I would like to sidestep 
the argument while still remaining focused on what is essential, 
which, I think must lie in human nature and motives. The most 
sensitive students of the past 200 years would agree that rank and 


The Origin of Inequality 

stratified societies came into being without anyone really noticing; 
it just “happened,” gradually and ineluctably. The vital question, 
then, it seems to me, is not exactly how it happened but why it 
was allowed to happen, what there was in human nature that went 
along so willingly with the process. 

The answer to this question seems to me remarkably straight- 
forward. I have said that primitive man recognized differences in 
talent and merit and already deferred to them somewhat, granted 
them special privileges. Why? Because obviously these qualities 
helped to secure life, to assure the perpetuation of the tribe. Ex- 
ploits in the danger of hunting and war were especially crucial. 
Why? Because in these activities certain individuals could single 
themselves out as adept at defying death; the tokens and trophies 
that they displayed were indications of immortality power or dura- 
bility power, which is the same thing. If you identified with these 
persons and followed them, then you got the same immunities they 
had. This is the basic role and function of the hero in history; he 
is the one who gambles with his very life and successfully defies 
death, and men follow him and eventually worship his memory 
because he embodies the triumph over what they fear most, ex- 
tinction and death. He becomes the focus of the peculiarly human 
passion play of the victory over death. 

To go back to Rousseau for a moment, we can now see how 
fanciful the idea is that in the “state of nature” man is free and 
only becomes unfree later on. Man never was free and cannot be 
free from his own nature. He carries within him the bondage that 
he needs in order to continue to live. As Rank so well taught us, 
Rousseau simply did not understand human nature in the round: 
he “was not able to see that every human being is also equally 
unfree, that is, we are bom in need of authority and we even 
create out of freedom, a prison. . . ,” 13 This insight is the fruit of 
the outcome of modem psychoanalysis, and there is no going back 
behind it to the dreams of Rousseau or the utopian revolution- 
aries. It penetrates to the heart of the human condition and to 
the principal dynamic of the emergence of historical inequality. We 
have to say, with Rank, that primitive religion “starts the first class 
distinction .” 14 That is, the individual gives over the aegis of his 
own life and death to the spirit world; he is already a second-class 



citizen. The first class distinction, then, was between mortal and 
immortal, between feeble human powers and special superhuman 

Once things started off on this footing, it was only natural that 
class distinctions should continue to develop from this first im- 
petus: those individuals who embodied supernatural powers, or 
could somehow plug into them or otherwise use them when the 
occasion demanded, came to have the same ability to dominate 
others that was associated with the spirits themselves. The anthro- 
pologist Robert Lowie was a specialist on those most egalitarian 
of all primitive peoples, the Plains Indian tribes. Even these fiercely 
independent Indians, he tells us, gave up their equalitarian attitudes 
of everyday life on raiding parties. A Crow Indian would organize 
a raid only when prompted by his supernatural guardian spirit, and 
so all those who followed him deferred to him and to his spirit. 
Again, the overlordship of the invisible world as embodied in cer- 
tain human personages made temporary slaves of their fellows. 
No one was more cautious than Lowie about making general state- 
ments on primitives, yet when it came to speculating about social 
evolution he made a very straightforward choice: 

I suggest that the awe which surrounded the protege of supernatural 
powers formed the psychological basis for more complex political de- 
velopments. . . . The very same men who flout the pretensions of a 
fellow-brave grovel before a darling of the gods, render him “implicit 
obedience and respect .” 15 

Power Figures and Power Sources 

Primitives were frank about power, and in a spiritual cosmology 
power is relatively undisguised: it comes from the pool of ancestors 
and spirits. In our society power resides in technology, and we 
live and use the artifacts of technology so effortlessly and thought- 
lessly that it almost seems we are not beholden to power — until, as 
said earlier, something goes wrong with an airplane, a generator, 
a telephone line. Then you see our “religious” anxiety come out. 


The Origin of Inequality 

Power is the life pulse that sustains man in every epoch, and 
unless the student understands power figures and power sources he 
can understand nothing vital about social history. 

The history of man’s "fall” into stratified society can be traced 
around the figures of his heroes, to whom he is beholden for the 
power he wants most — to persevere as an organism, to continue 
experiencing. Again we pick up the thread from the very begin- 
ning of our argument and see how intricately it is interwoven in 
man’s career on this planet. If primitive man was not in bondage 
to the authority of living persons, he at least had some “heroes” 
somewhere, and these — as said — were the spirit powers, usually of 
the departed dead, the ancestors. The idea seems very strange to 
most of us today, but for the primitive it was often the dead who 
had the most power. In life the individual goes through ritualistic 
passages to states of higher power and greater importance as a 
helper of life. For many primitives death is the final promotion to 
the highest power of all, the passage into the invisible world of 
the spirits and the ability to use and manipulate the visible world 
from their new abode.* Many people — and Hocart was one of the 
foremost of these — have argued that primitives do not fear death 
as much as we do; but we know that this equanimity is due to the 
fact that the primitive was usually securely immersed in his par- 
ticular cultural ideology, which was in essence an ideology of life, 
of how to continue on and to triumph over death. 

It is easy to see the significance of power for the human animal; 
it is really the basic category of his existence, as the organism’s 
whole world is structured in terms of power. No wonder that 
Thomas Hobbes could say that man was characterized by “a general 
inclination, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, 
that ceaseth only in death .” 16 

One of the first things a child has to learn is how much power 

• This is not universal among primitives by any means. Some tribes fear 
the dead for only a little while immediately after death, and then they are 
thought to become weak. Some tribes fear especially those spirits who repre- 
sent unfinished and unfulfilled life, spirits of persons whodied prematurely 
and would be envious of the living, and so on. Radin offers a frankly inter- 
actionist point of view by saying that the dead are feared because they can- 
not be controlled as well as when they were alive. P. Radin, The World of 
rimitive Man New York: Grove Press 1960), .143. 



he has and how much exists in others and in the world. Only if he 
learns this can he be sure of surviving; he has to learn very 
minutely what powers he can count on to facilitate his life and 
what powers he has to fear and avoid in order to protect it. So 
power becomes the basic category of being for which he has, so to 
speak, a natural respect: if you are wrong about power, you don’t 
get a chance to be right about anything else; and the things that 
happen when the organism loses its powers are a decrease of 
vitality and death. Little wonder, then, that primitive man had right 
away to conceptualize and live according to hierarchies of power 
and give them his most intense respect. Anthropology discovered 
that the basic categories of primitive thought are the ideas of mana 
and taboo, which we can translate simply as “power” and “danger” 
or “watch out” (because of power). The study of life, people, and 
the world, then, broke down into an alertness for distributions of 
power. The more mana you could find to tap, the more taboo you 
could avoid, the better. 

But power is an invisible mystery. It erupts out of nature in 
storms, volcanoes, meteors, in springtime and newborn babies; and 
it returns into nature in ashes, winter, and death. The only way we 
know it is there is to see it in action. And so the idea of mana, or 
special power erupting from the realm of the invisible and the 
supernatural, can only be spotted in the unusual, the surpassing, 
the excellent, that which transcends what is necessary or expected. 
From the very beginning, the child experiences the awesomeness 
of life and his problems of survival and well-being in other people; 
and so persons come to be the most intimate place where one looks 
to be delighted by the specialness of mysterious life, or where one 
fears to be overwhelmed by powers that he cannot understand or 
cope with. It is natural, then, that the most immediate place to 
look for the eruptions of special power is in the activities and 
qualities of persons; and so, as we saw, eminence in hunting, extra 
skill and strength, and special fearlessness in warfare right away 
marked those who were thought to have an extra charge of power 
or mana. They earned respect and special privileges and had to be 
handled gently because they were both an asset and a danger: in 
their very persons they were an open fount between two worlds, 

ilia inn'klo nr»/1 tVin imnciVtlo onrl r»ntHPr nOCCPrl fVimilCrVt tllPTTl fl*! 


The Origin of Inequality 

The most unashamed pretender to supernatural powers was, on 
the primitive level, the medicine man, or shaman. He invented the 
specialty of entering into the world of the dead and coming back 
from it unharmed; he went on these supernatural trips and per- 
sonally carried out whatever business the tribe or members of it 
had in the powerful world of the spirits; he went to see a dead 
soul safely to the other side, to harangue the invisible spirits and 
make them let go of a sick person, etc. The shaman was the hero 
who "died” and was reborn unfailingly, who thus regularly acted 
out man’s triumph over death and evil, and who established man’s 
link with the invisible power world. It was an agonizing role to play, 
and it was played best by those individuals who actually were 
“seized by spirits” and “killed” by them — the epileptics . 17 Nothing 
strikes greater terror into man’s heart than to witness an eruption of 
power from the deptlis of nature that he cannot understand or con- 
trol — whether it is lava erupting from a volcano or the foam and 
convulsions of an epileptic. And so for all these reasons primitive 
man saw the epileptic shaman as a natural hero, a source of fear 
and respect.® The shaman was the mystifier par excellence, and it 
was only logical that he should often be more powerful than chiefs, 
more feared, and get greater rewards. Sometimes he allied himself 
with the chief of a tribe, and the resulting exploitation was what 
Radin called “clearly a form of gangsterism .” 18 

Radin’s writings on the origins of inequality .are the most sen- 
sitively probing and ruthless that I know. In his view primitive 
society was from the very beginning a struggle by individuals and 
groups for special privileges — who would get the best meat, the 
easiest access to women, some leisure and security. The elders 
always tried to arrange these for their own benefit, and so did the 
shamans. On the simplest levels of culture they were already or- 
ganizing themselves into an exclusive fraternity so as to get and 
keep maximum power. How does one get maximum power in a 
cosmology where ritual is the technics that manufactures life? Ob- 

* He was also the first natural systematizer of religion because he actually 
had experiences of rebirth, reincarnation, and eternal life in the dream state 
following a convulsive seizure. These experiences are more or less characteristic 
for all epileptics. This is how we understand the birth of these basic religious 
notions, verified “objectively” by many individuals. Cf. W. Bromberg and P. 





viously by getting control of the formulas for the technics. Very 
early the elders and the religious personages tried to get control 
of the ritual. In his brilliant chapter “The Crises of Life and Their 
Rituals ” 19 Radin argues that the religious systematizer built his 
symbolic interpretations around the crises of life, those passages 
where one’s identity was in doubt, where he was moving from one 
state to another, where everything had to go smoothly in order 
for a flowering out or birth into a new status to take place. And so 
the puberty and the death rituals came to be surrounded by the 
greatest importance, wherein lay the greatest possibilities of bun- 
gling. Radin makes the fascinating point that over and beyond the 
frankly religious and psychological nature of these passages, there 
is a social-economic purpose to them — or rather to the control of 
them by certain groups. Talking about puberty rites of the Austral- 
ian aborigines he says: 

. . . over and above all other reasons is the somewhat cynically expressed 
purpose of the old men of having novices supply them, for many years, 
with regular presents in the form of animal food, of reserving the choice 
dishes for themselves by the utilization of the numerous food taboos 
imposed on the younger people, and, finally, of keeping the young 
women for themselves. 

And again, with another tribe, Radin observes that “the fundamental 
and immediate objective was to maintain power in the hands of 
the older people and to keep the women in proper subjection.” 
Those who systematized the puberty, he concludes, weren’t obeying 
some mystical, myth-making urge in the unconscious. 

Rather . . . specific individuals banded together formally or informally, 
individuals who possess a marked capacity for articulating their ideas 
and for organizing them into coherent systems, which, naturally, would 
be of profit to them and to those with whom they are allied . 20 

I linger on Radin’s views for a good reason. They put closure on 
the very beginnings of the modern debate on the origins of in- 
equality. Adam Ferguson had argued that the primitive world had 
to break up because of man’s burning ambition to improve himself, 
to compete and stand out in a ceaseless struggle for perfection . 21 

The Origin of Inequality 49 

Ferguson’s was a very straightforward and unburdened view of 
man. As we would put it, the frail human creature tries to change 
his position from one of insignificance in the face of nature to one 
of central importance; from one of inability to cope with the over- 
whelming world to one of absolute control and mastery of nature. 
Each organism is in a struggle for more life and tries to expand 
and aggrandize itself as much as possible. And the most immediate 
way to do this is in one’s immediate social situation — vis 4 -vis 
others. This is what Hobbes meant with his famous observation that 
evil is a robust child. Rousseau quoted this in his essay on in- 
equality, and his whole intent was to show that this isn’t true, that 
the child is innocent and does evil in a number of clumsy and 
unintentional ways. But this is just what Hobbes was driving at, 
that the organism expands itself in the ways open to it and that 
this has destructive consequences for the world around it. Rousseau 
and Hobbes were right, evil is “neutral” in origin, it derives from 
organismic robustness — but its consequences are real and painful. 

What Radin did was to bring all this up to date with an acute 
understanding of personality types and interpersonal dynamics and 
a frankly materialistic perspective on society. This is already the 
makings of a union of Marx and Freud. Seen in this way, social life 
is the saga of the working out of one’s problems and ambitions on 
others. What else could it be, what else are human objects for? I 
think it is along lines such as these that we would find the psycho- 
logical dynamics for a sophisticated Marxist philosophy of history; 
it would be based on power, but it would include individual 
deviance and interpersonal psychology, and it would reflect a 
“social contract” forged in desire and fear. The central question of 
such a sophisticated Marxist philosophy of history would be. Who 
has the power to mystify, how did he get it, and how does he keep 
it? We can see how naive the traditional Marxist view of simple 
coercion is: it doesn’t begin to take into account what we must now 
call the sacredness of class distinctions. There is no other accurate 
way-to speak. What began in religion remains religious. All power 
is, as Brown says, sacred power, because it begins in the hunger 
for immortality; and it ends in the absolute subjection to people 
and things which represent immortality power. 

And so Brown could offer his own biting criticism of Rousseau: 

5 » 


If the emergence of social privilege marks the Fall of Man, the Fall 
took place not in the transition from “primitive communism” to “private 
property” but in the transition from ape to man . 22 

That is, from a type of animal that had no notion of the sacred to 
one that did. And if sacredness is embodied in persons, then they 
dominate by a psychological spell, not by physical coercion. As 
Brown puts it, “Privilege is prestige, and prestige in its fundamental 
nature as in the etymology of the word, means deception and en- 
chantment .” 2 '' 1 Thus Brown could conclude — in the epigraph we 
have borrowed for this chapter — that the chains that bind men are 

If we left this idea unadorned, it would still need explaining: 
why are men so eager to be mystified, so willing to be bound in 
chains? The bind is explained by one idea, the truly great idea that 
emerged from psychoanalysis and that goes right to the heart of 
the human condition: the phenomenon of transference .° 

People take the overwhelmingness of creation and their own fears 
and desires and project them in the form of intense mana onto cer- 
tain figures to which they then defer. They follow these figures 
with passion and with a trembling heart. When one thinks of his 
own eager fascinations, he can feel revolted by himself and by the 
obedient throngs who look with such timidity and satisfaction on 
the “leader.” Look how the girls blush, how hands reach out 
tremblingly, how eyes lower and dart to one side, how quickly a 
few choke up, ready for tearful and grateful submission, how 
smugly those nearest to the leader smile, how puffed up they walk — 
how the Devil himself seems to have contrived an instant, mass 
puppet show with real live creatures. But there is no way of avoid- 
ing the fatality of it: the thousands of hearts palpitating, the 
gallons of adrenalin, of blood rushing to the cheeks — it is all lived 
truth, an animal’s reaction to the majesty of creation. If anything is 
false about it, it is the fact that thousands of human forms feel 
inferior and beholden to an identical, single human form. 

In all this I am not negating the pure Marxian side of historical 

* For a more detailed examination of the nature of transference please see 
my extensive summary in chap. 7 of The Denial of Death (New York: The 
Free Press, 1973). 

The Origin of Inequality 51 

domination; that is real enough and we know it. But there can 
never be a way of relieving or eliminating the domination of struc- 
tures of power without coming to grips with the spell of power, a 
spell that explains voluntary self-alienation whether it deals with 
spirits or with Soviets. Men are literally hypnotized by life and by 
those who represent life to them, which explains the passion of 
submission that Melville summed up so brilliantly in Moby Dick, in 
the quarterdeck scene when Ahab consecrates the harpoons. In 
other words, Marxism has to come to grips with the conservative 
argument: that there is something in human nature that invites 
inequality no matter what we do. One recent writer calls this 
“functional inequality,” and sees it as a completely neutral and 
unavoidable factor in social life. 24 Or, as I would say with Rank, 
men are “fate-creating” agents: they coerce by simply existing; they 
do not even necessarily, like Ahab, try to project electric mana; 
they are already a natural vortex of the problems of life. We can 
sum all this up in one sentence that presents to narrow Marxism 
the most fundamental challenge it has faced: men fashion un- 
ffreedom as a bribe for self-perpetuation. What is the shape of a 
revolutionary philosophy of history that would begin to take full 
account of that? 


The Evolution of Inequality 

Radin’s view of how shamans and elders gained control of ritual 
is full of volition, scheming, competitiveness; the more shrewd, in- 
troverted, selfish members of the tribe outwitted and outplayed the 
more plodding and guileless, the ones who carried the burden of the 
tribe’s work.’ At the level of equalitarian society — simple hunting 
and gathering tribes — Radin’s scheme of the growth of privilege 
through the deliberate creation of mystique is compelling. But what 
I like about Hocart’s view of the growth of privilege at a later stage 
of social evolution is that it accents the other side: the common 
accord with which men reach for their own subjection. 

In Radin’s equalitarian society organismic well-being is achieved 
by an economy of reciprocal exchange; goods are freely traded 
among the tribe. In Hocart’s rank society there is a new economic 
process: the flow of goods funnels to a center of power — an 
authoritarian figure — who receives the fruits of everyone’s labor 
and redistributes those fruits; he can order people to work on his 
behalf or on someone else’s, and he takes the surplus, pools it, and 
then gives it out as needed . 2 

Immediately the question arises. Why did people go from an 
economy of simple sharing among equals to one of pooling via an 
authority figure who has a high rank and absolute power? The 
answer is that man wanted a visible god ahvays present to receive 
his offerings, and for this he was willing to pay the price of his 
own subjection. In Hocart’s words: 

The Fijians had invisible gods, sometimes present in the priest or in an 
animal; they preferred a god always present, one they could see and 
speak to, and the chief was such a god. That is the true reason for a 
Fijian chief’s existence: he receives the offerings of his people, and in 
consequence they prosper . 3 


The Evolution of Inequality 53 

That is, they prosper because there is a god right on the spot that 
visibly accepts their offerings; thus there is no doubt about their 
favor in his eyes. 

So great was the belief that a visible god meant prosperity that 
chiefless tribes were eager to get a chief “as soon as they could find 
a nobleman whose high rank or age gave hopes that he would be 
acceptable to the spirits.” 4 Prosperity and chiefs were associated 
because the tribes with great chiefs were actually more prosperous. 
Hocart explains this as a circular process; the wealthier tribes were 
more energetic, and so they rose among their neighbors. But part of 
the reason that they were more energetic was that “there is no 
doubt that present divinity evoked an enthusiasm which acted as a 
tonic, and braced men to greater efforts.” “A Fijian will put his 
back into his work when striving to shine in the eyes of the great 
man.” 5 Imagine what a stimulus it would be to our own efforts 
today if we could actually see that God was satisfied with the fruits 
of our labors. Again we come back to the natural genius of primi- 
tive man, who provided himself with what man needs most; to 
know daily that he is living right in the eyes of God, that his worka- 
day action has cosmic value — no, even that it enhances God Him- 

Men lean on increase and creation ritual especially when times 
are bad; it is then that their spiritual technology has to work. So if 
they got along without a king in good times, they would want one 
when times got bad. Besides, says Hocart, if you are without a 
king you are in a position of inferiority in relation to your neigh- 
bors; when others parade their visible god, and their favor in his 
eyes, how can you stand being shown up as having no god of 
your own? The Jews were mocked in the ancient world because 
they had no image of their god, he seemed like a mere figment of 
their imagination; next to the visible splendor of the Pharaoh, the 
God of Israel seemed like a phantom of a deluded mind. Most of 
all, one always knew how one stood with the visible god, but the 
Israelis were never sure how they stood with their invisible one — 
the whole thing must have seemed sick. 

To speak of the Pharaoh is to sum up the whole process: once 
you have a visible ritual principal in the form of a chief or a king, 



a visible god, by definition you already have divine kingship — the 
great emergent tyranny of the ancient world. And we can see in one 
swoop why ancient man so willingly embraced his new alienated 
status under divine kingships, as tbe chiefless tribes of Fiji eagerly 
chose a chief with all the troubles this meant. It all goes back to 
our discussion in Chapter One about macro- and microcosmization, 
processes whereby man entwined his own destiny with that of the 
cosmos by bringing the heavens into human affairs and by blowing 
himself up as the center of concern of the universe. We also saw 
that ritual was an enactment of the struggle between the forces of 
light and life and those of darkness and death. With the technique 
of ritual offerings man sought to bring the invisible powers of 
nature to bear on his visible well-being. Well, the divine king sums 
up this whole cosmology all in himself. He is the god who receives 
offerings, the protagonist of light against dark, and the embodi- 
ment of the invisible forces of nature — specifically, the sun. In 
Hocart’s happy phrase, he is the “Sun-Man.” Divine kingship sums 
up the double process of macro- and microcosmization: it represents 
a “solarization of man, and a humanizing of the sun .” 6 

For early man the emanations of light and heat from the sun were 
the archetypes of all miraculous power: the sun shines from afar and 
by its invisible touch causes life to unfold and expand . 7 We can’t 
say much more about this mystery even today. Hocart asks whether 
ancient man was altogether wrong in his main conception “that 
animal or vegetable energy on this earth is after all little else than 
bottled sunshine?” And once man made the equation king equals 
sun, was he altogether wrong to believe that “this bottled sunshine 
manifests itself again in other forms of action at a distance by look 
and by voice? After all, man does act at a distance by means of the 
light and sound waves that emanate from him .” 8 The point is, con- 
cludes Hocart, that once you admit that a man can become one with 
the sun, it follows that the actions of the one are the actions of the 
other, that the king himself in his person, will vivify the earth. 
When the Pharaoh’s name was mentioned, it was followed by the 
words “life,” “prosperity,” “health ”! 9 In these three words are 
summed up the timeless and universal hunger of men. And when 
they had made that most wonderful invention of all, a living em- 

The Evolution of Inequality 55 

bodiment of prosperity, a Sun-Man, how expect them not to fall 
into eager thralldom? I use the word “invention” advisedly: the 
individual Sun-Man was the focus of a cosmology of invisible 
energy, like the modern computer and atomic reactor, and he 
aroused the same hopes and yearning they arouse for the perfectly 
ordered, plentifully supplied life. Like the reactor, too, he reflected 
back energy-power on those around him: just the right amount and 
they prospered; too much and they withered into decay and death. 

At this point we might be tempted to get up on our high horse 
and proclaim that the simple fact is that the atomic theory of power 
is true, and the Sun-Man theory false. But we have to remind our- 
selves, soberly, that we haven’t quite abandoned the earlier theory; it 
still holds a fascination for us and we still live in large measure by its 
compellingness. We know about the genuine mana that surrounds 
presidents and prime ministers: look at Churchill and the whole 
Kennedy family; in true primitive style each member of the family 
is interchangeable because each partakes of the same kin pool of 
power. And in those “least superstitious” and “most humanistic and 
scientific” states of Russia and China, witness the aura of mana that 
surrounds their chairmen. Caesar could not have hoped for more. 
The political leader only becomes suspect when it is thought that he 
has no special powers, or has lost them. Then, after the manner of 
the ancient chiefs and kings, he is quickly “done away with” by a 
vote or a coup in favor of a new power symbol. As the ancients 
believed that the kingdom would perish if the king’s mana ebbed, 
so do we feel uncomfortable and anxious if the figure “at the top” 
doesn’t show real excellence, some kind of “magic.” 

The identification of the mana figure with one’s own well-being 
still influences too the democratic voting process: just as in tradi- 
tional society, we tend to vote for the person who already represents 
health, wealth, and success so that some of it will rub off on us. 
Whence the old adage “Nothing succeeds like success.” This attrac- 
tion is also especially strong in certain religious cults of the Father 
Divine type: the followers want to see wealth flaunted in the per- 
son of their leader, hoping that some of it will radiate back to them. 
This is a direct continuation of the tradition of weighing the Aga 
Khan in diamonds. 10 



The Centralization of Ritual 

Once men consented to live by the redistribution of life’s goods 
through a god figure who represented life, they had sealed their 
fate. There was no stopping the process of the monopolization of 
life in the king’s hands. It went like this: The king of ritual principal 
was in charge of the sacred objects of the group and had to hold 
the prescribed ceremonies by a strict observance of the customs of 
the ancestors. This made him a repository of custom, an authority 
on custom. “Custom” is a weak word in English to convey some- 
thing really momentous, as we saw; custom is the abstruse technical 
lore that runs the machinery for the renewal of nature. It is the 
physics, medicine, and mechanics of primitive society. Imagine 
our trying to fight a plague with faulty chemicals, and you can under- 
stand that custom equals life. The authority on custom, then, is the 
supreme regulator of certain departments of nature. But this regula- 
tion is so useful to the tribe — in fact it is life itself — that it 
naturally comes to be extended to all departments. Again, I think 
an analogy to modern life may convey some of the flavor: what 
first began as the miraculous harnessing of electric power in the 
electric bulb now extends to toothbrushes, razors, garden tools, 
typewriters, etc. What was at first limited to ritual and to the seat 
of ritual gradually spread “to the whole of the king’s realm and 
the whole life of his subjects .” 11 After all, if you are going to be 
supreme regulator of the world, it is only logical that you should 
gradually encompass the whole world. If your invisible mechanics 
works in one area, there is no reason why it should not work in 
another, you have only to try it. And you try it by extending your 
ritual prerogative to cover the case: you extend the veil of your 
mana power over wider and wider jurisdictions. It seems like a 
benign and harmless enough process, one you might never even 
notice and in fact might want to happen — but what is happening 
is the complete entrenchment of social inequality. Hocart sums it up 
in a nutshell: 

Fijian chiefs were great sticklers for etiquette. They were quick to 
resent offences against their dignity and unseemly behaviour in their 

The Evolution of Inequality 57 

precincts. . . . These may seem petty matters; but they are fraught with 
great possibilities. The Fijian chief has only to extend his precincts and 
interpret widely the traditional rules of ceremonial behaviour in order 
to acquire a criminal jurisdiction, and increase his interference with the 
life of his subjects. ... By sanctifying anything they [the chiefs in 
Polynesia] brought it within the sphere of ritual, that is their own sphere. 
This was certainly not done suddenly, but by persistently extending the 
applications of taboo [sacred powerj, as we shall see our English kings 
extend their peace. 12 

You can see that the whole force of social sanction would fall 
behind the king to protect his definitions of social custom and his 
ritual prerogatives; otherwise the tribe would lose well-being and 
life. We might say that the safeguarding of custom imposes tyranny 
because of the need for the king’s power. The more successful a 
king, the more prerogatives he could enjoy: he was judged by 
results. “If the harvests were good the people were prepared to put 
up with a moderate amount of tyranny.” 13 

Protection of custom and criminal jurisdiction go together so 
naturally, then, that we should not wonder that ritual centraliza- 
tion also came to mean control of the power to punish. Another 
large step in the evolution of inequality seems to me to be summed 
up here. To us a police force is a part of life, as inevitable, it seems, 
as death and taxes; we rely on the police to punish those who 
hurt us. But it hasn’t always been so. In simple egalitarian societies 
there is no police force, no way to settle a wrong except to do so 
yourself, family against family. But if there is no police force to 
enforce the law, there is also none to coerce you for any reason. You 
have to stay alert, but you are also freer. A police force is usually 
drawn up temporarily for special occasions and then disbanded. 
Among the Plains Indians, for example, these special occasions were 
the buffalo hunt, mass migrations, war parties, and major festivals; 
it was then that the police had to maintain order and harmonize 
and synchronize activities so as to ensure a maximum buffalo kill, 
etc. At these times the police force enjoyed absolute authority, even 
the power of life and death; and yet among the Plains Indians this 
foundation for autocracy never hardened into permanent form. 

Theorists of social evolution have given much attention to the 
police function in egalitarian societies and have speculated on why 



it didn’t develop into a permanent coercive structure, a stratified 
state of the modern type . 14 The answer seems to be that the en- 
trenchment of a police force or even a military organization is not 
all by itself the road to institutionalized inequality. Offhand you 
might think that blatant power would exercise its own fascination 
and its own irresistible coercion, but in the affairs of men things 
don’t seem to work that way: men will not give in to power unless 
it is accompanied by mystification, as in the service of something 
that has a grander aura of legitimacy, of symbolic compellingness. 
So Lowie concluded that the religious figures command more 
respect than the military ones, and Fried thinks that the emergence 
of the economics of redistribution is much more significant than 
military organizations . 15 In other words, men seem first to have 
allowed or even welcomed the ascendancy over them of visible 
gods; after that, to accept punishment from the agents of these 
gods is a natural and logical step. 

But the result, alas, is not as innocent as it must have seemed 
to people living during these transitions. What they were doing was 
bartering away social equality and a measure of personal indepen- 
dence for prosperity and order. There was now nothing to stop the 
state from taking more and more functions and prerogatives into 
itself, from developing a class of special beings at the center and 
inferior ones around it, or from beginning to give these special 
beings a larger share of the good things of the earth.® Not only of 
the earth, but also of afterlife: evidently the common people of 
Tonga had no souls, and Hocart believes that the lower classes of 
society did not get souls until they imitated the ceremonies of the 

Once you went from an economy of simple sharing to one of 
redistribution, goods gradually ceased to be your natural right. 
Again a logical, almost forced development. How this actually came 
about is shrouded in the depths of prehistory, and it must have 
been a long and varied development; we can’t trace it except for 
hints here and there, but we can empirically compare tribal life 

® This is one of Hocart’s major arguments throughout all his studies, that 
the whole of archaic society set itself up to imitate the divine cosmos of the 
king, and that we can still see vestiges of this organization. His exploration 
is a fascinating one and opens up a whole new vista to the student, whether 
Hocart proves to be describing a universally true phenomenon or not (cf. K, 
pp. 235, 156). 

The Evolution of Inequality 59 

with later stages of social evolution. What we see is that private 
interests became more and more separated from public interests — 
until today we hardly know what a public interest is. 

Students who look for the point at which economic activity and 
social morality begin to pull apart usually focus on the potlatch: 
it was evidently around the process of redistribution that gift giving 
gradually changed into grabbing and keeping. As the power figures 
got more and more ascendancy vis-a-vis the group, they could take 
a fixed portion of the surplus with less involvement in the life of the 
people. The classic potlatch, as practiced, say, among the Kwakiutl, 
was a redistribution ceremonial pure and simple. It embraced the 
twin urges talked about in Chapter Two, heroism and expiation. 
The more goods one could amass and give away, the greater a coup 
of oneupmanship one pulled off, the more power one could generate, 
the bigger the personal victory. The object was to humiliate rivals, 
to stand out as tall as possible as a big man, a hero. At the same 
time, the grander was the expiation before the community and the 
gods to whom the goods were offered. Both the individual urge to 
maximum self-feeling and the community well-being were served. 
But this classic social ceremonial had to change with the gradual 
development of hereditary privilege, so that the chiefs became the 
principal takers and destroyers of goods. In this way a feudal struc- 
ture could naturally develop. 16 

Another suggestive way of looking at this development is to see i 
as a shift of the balance of power, away from a dependence on the 
invisible world of the gods to a flaunting of the visible world of 
things. Again, it is only natural that once the god became visible 
in the person of the king, his powers became those of this world — 
visible, temporal powers in place of invisible, eternal ones. He 
would come to measure his power by the piles of things he actually 
possessed, by the glory of his person, and not, as before, by the 
efficiency of the ritual technics for the renewal of nature. 

This represents a basic change in man’s whole stance toward the 
world, from a partnership with animal spirits, a sharer in nature’s 
bounty, to a big boss, a darling of the gods. Hocart calls it the 
“growing conceit” of man, and we know that this hubris comes 
directly from a belief that one’s own powers are more important 
than anything else. In the old totemic world picture individuals 
did not stand out as much. There was belief in the fusion of human 



and animal spirits, a kind of spiritual unification of the life of the 
tribe with a sector of nature. Out of the invisible world of spirits 
life tumbled in an endless cycle of embodiments and returns. The 
individual got his sense of self-expansion and protection by sharing 
in the collectivity of social and animal souls, in the clan and its 
totems. I don’t want to get tied up in an argument with modern 
anthropology about what exactly totemism is or isn’t, or even, as 
Levi-Strauss questioned, whether it existed or not. What is certain 
is that spirit beliefs permeated primitive society and with them the 
sense of some kind of mystical participation with animals and nature, 
a participation for the purposes of the control and renewal of life. 
The individual got a sense of organismic durability by identifying 
with the fund of ancestral spirits.' What also seems certain is that 
the entire community functioned as a kind of regenerative priest- 
hood, as each member had a share in the ritual.® 

The shared communal ritual recedes before the chief or king as 
he comes to control and centralize it in his person. The “conceit” 
comes in when he himself becomes the guarantee of life and it is 
no longer the group as a whole. We might put it this way: in the 
classic potlatch the accumulation of visible power was certainly 
there in the piles of goods, and it was very compelling and meant to 
be so, but it had not yet taken the ascendancy over the group, had 
not yet upset the shared dependence, the reliance on gods and 
spirits, animals and ancestors. But with the historical detachment 

* This step in social evolution raises some fascinating questions about the 
basic nature of man and his attitudes toward the world around him. Often 
these days we tend to romanticize about how primitives “naturally” respected 
nature and animal life and handled them gently and reverently. Certainly 
this was often true, but we also know that primitives could be very casual and 
even cruel with animals. Hocart throws an interesting light on this by point- 
ing out that once man got enough power over the world to forgo the old 
totemic ritual identifications, he became more and more eager to disclaim any 
relationship with animals. Hence the eclipse of animal identification historically. 
We know that primitives used animals in the ritual technics, but Hocart says 
this doesn’t mean that they always revered them or that respect was the 
primary thing: the primary thing was identification for use. This would ex- 
plain why, once man got more secure control over the visible world, he found 
it easy to dissociate himself entirely from animals. Otto Rank has discussed 
brilliantly the change from Egyptian to Greek art as the gradual defeat of 
the animal by the spiritual principle, the climax of a long struggle by man 
to liberate himself from his animal nature. See Hocart, K, p. 146, KC, pp. 
53-54, SO, p. 35; and Rank, Art and Artist (New York: Knopf, 1932), pp. 
356 If. 

The Evolution of Inequality 61 

of power figures into feudal structures, the generation of wealth as 
moral power for the community became a caricature. Nowhere is 
this better seen than in the ancient world: the “potlatch” practiced 
bv the Romans was a perfect example of the degeneration of the 
primitive gift complex. The emperors “gave” huge public entertain- 
ments in the arenas, public buildings, and monuments, whose walls 
were duly inscribed, as is the Pantheon in Rome, with the name 
of the giver. But we know that these givers amassed and passed 
on more than they gave; their gifts were only a sop to the com- 
munity, more public relations than expiation; they gave to the eyes 
of men and not to the gods. We see the final evolution of this empty 
potlatch practiced in the western world, our cities, parks, and 
universities carrying buildings with the names Carnegie, Rockefel- 
ler, Hearst, Macmillan-Bloedel — men who grabbed millions from the 
labor and lands of others and offered back to the public a pittance. 
It was good public relations for alienated masses who understood 
nothing, but it was hardly expiation for public guilt; it was almost 
all proud heroism, the flaunting of power with very little mixture of 

Conclusion: The Eclipse of Communal Ritual 

Most people would agree that the word “alienation” applies to 
modern man, that something happened in history which gradually 
despoiled the average man, transformed him from an active, crea- 
tive being into the pathetic consumer who smiles proudly from our 
billboards that his armpits are odor-free around the clock. The 
main task of historical Marxism was to loudly proclaim this “down- 
fall” of man; and thinkers as diverse as Whitehead, Kierkegaard, 
and Trotsky agreed. This is still the truth at the heart of the myth of 
the "noble savage,” and part of the reason that Rousseau’s thought is 
still not dead. Historical man lost something that early man had. It 
would take volumes to talk about the many dimensions of historical 
alienation, and the subject has been covered in the most complex 
ways. But there is a suggestive way of looking at the problem that 
cuts right to the heart of it, and that is from the two angles we have 
been using here: first, to say that man changed from a privileged 



sharer of goods to someone who was dependent on the redistribu- 
tion of.goods; and second, to say that he was gradually dispossessed 
of the most intimate creative role he had ever invented, that of a 
practitioner of ritual. 

The family or clan is a ritual unit, which makes each person a 
member of a priesthood. Often each clan has a specific function in 
the regeneration of nature, its own ceremonial lodge, sacred fire, 
ritual songs, and ceremonies which belong to it alone. It is easy 
enough for us to talk about a household that has its own cult and 
sacred fire, but can we imagine what it means to step into a hut 
that has a sacred fire, a hut filled with technologists who know the 
secret ways of rejuvenating earthly life? I have already talked 
about what this did for the individual as a cosmic hero, but it bears 
repeating again and again because I don’t think we can easily get 
the feel of the thing or understand what is missing when it is lost. 
And historically, precisely what happened is that it was lost. Family 
ritual was absorbed into state ritual. Hocart sums this whole 
development up in a few trenchant lines: 

The great difference between our society and most non-European 
societies is that the national ritual, of which the Pope or the sovereign 
[president, chairman, prime minister, etc.] is the head, has swallowed up 
all others. Hence the clan and all other ritual organizations have disap- 
peared. . . . The disappearance of the intermediate groupings has left 
the married couple face to face with the state . 17 

But now a married couple, completely shorn of sacred status, does 
not live in a sacred house, belong to a holy clan, or possess the 
secret technology for the renewal of nature. Which means that it is 
face to face with the state but with no real powers of its own. As 
the modern married couple does not understand the high estate 
from which it has fallen historically, it can be quite content to 
regenerate nature in the person of a child and to renovate prosperity 
by working in a factory. Needless to say, these are activities for the 
promotion of life which have quite different qualities and intensities, 
and one of the great lessons historical psychology can teach is what 
new ways man has had to invent for the pursuit of life after the 
disappearance of the primitive world picture. 


The New Historical Forms of 
Immortality Power 

History in itself is nothing but applied psychology. 
Hence we must look to theoretical psychology to 
give us the clew to its true interpretation. 

Karl Lamprecht 1 

We can now take a step that we prepared for in the Introduction. 
There, remember, we saw that man wants what all organisms want: 
continuing experience, self-perpetuation as a living being. But we 
also saw that man — alone among all other organisms — had a con- 
sciousness that his life came to an end here on earth; and so he had 
to devise another way to continue his self-perpetuation, a way of 
transcending the world of flesh and blood, which was a perishable 
one. This he did by fixing on a world which was not perishable, by 
devising an “invisible-project" that would assure his immortality in 
a spiritual rather than physical way. 

This way of looking at the doings of men gives a direct key to 
the unlocking of history. We can see that what people want in any 
epoch is a way of transcending their physical fate, they want to 
guarantee some kind of indefinite duration, and culture provides 
them with the necessary immortality symbols or ideologies; societies 
can be seen as structures of immortality power. 

Two of the most brilliant and economical orderings of history 
from this point of view, to my mind, are those of Otto Rank and 
Norman O. Brown. Their work gave us a grip on the manifold of 
historical fact from an intimate psychological point of view — some- 
thing scholars had been seeking since the nineteenth century with- 
out success. In this chapter I want to take up Rank's work, which in 
fact came a full generation before the work of Brown. Brown; he 




swept over the whole panorama of social-evolutionaiy thought and 
the mass of scholarly monographs on the primitive world and early 
history; this was a mountain of scholarly insight from several disci- 
plines that was so sprawling and technical that little general sense 
could be made out of it. Rank pulled it all together with a single 
principle, what we might call the principle of immortality striving. It 
was a universal principle firmly anchored in each individual person, 
no matter who he was; it was present in each culture, no matter how 
varied its beliefs might seem, or how much mankind itself seemed 
to change from epoch to epoch. Beliefs were not fixed and final 
realities; thev varied from period to period, from one social form to 
another. What was fixed was the principle of a “dominant im- 
mortality-ideology.” In each historical period or social group, man 
thought that he lived absolute truth because his social life gave 
expression to his deepest innate hunger. And so Rank could say, 
“Every conflict over truth is in the last analysis just the same old 
struggle over . . . immortality .” 2 If anyone doubts this, let him try 
to explain in any other wav the life-and-death viciousness of all 
ideological disputes. Each person nourishes his immortality in the 
ideology of self-perpetuation to which he gives his allegiance; this 
gives his life the only abiding significance it can have. No wonder 
men go into a rage over fine points of belief: if your adversary wins 
the argument about truth, you die. Your immortality system has 
been shown to be fallible, your life becomes fallible. History, then, 
can be understood as the succession of ideologies that console for 
death. Or, more momentously, all cultural forms are in essence 
sacred because they seek the perpetuation and redemption of the 
individual life. This is the breathtaking import of Rank’s attempt 
to see history as stages or successions of immortality ideologies. 
Culture means that which is super natural; all culture has the basic 
mandate to transcend the physical, to permanently transcend it. All 
human ideologies, then, are affairs that deal directly with the sacred- 
ness of the individual or the group life, whether it seems that way or 
not, whether they admit it or not, whether the person knows it him- 
self or not. 

What does history look like viewed from this angle? We already 
have seen what the primitive world looked like. As both Rank 
and Brown saw it, what characterized “archaic” man was that he 

The New Historical Forms of Immortality Power 65 

attained immortality “by assimilation into the fund of ancestral 
souls, out of which comes each generation and into which they 
return.” 3 This eternal cycle of rebirth was self -renewing if helped 
with the proper communal rituals. The group, then, guaranteed its 
own self-perpetuation. Its duty was to strengthen the life force by 
fulfilling ritual obligations. The group alone conferred immortality 
— which is why the individual immersed himself so completely in 
its ideology, and why duty took precedence over everything else. 
Only in this way can we understand the willing self-denials of 
man in society; he accepts the social limitations on his appetites 
because the group gives expression to the most important appetite 
of all, the hunger for the continuation of life. Why would human 
beings put infants through the torture of lip plugs, subject them- 
selves to circumcisions and repeated subincisions, perforated nasal 
septums, neck rings, holes in the tongue, tom flesh, joints, muscles — 
why would they even willingly die — if not for the ultimate stake: 
immortality, the triumph over the extinction of the body and its 

And so Rank and Brown could argue that from the beginning of 
society and prehistory man has repressed himself, tamed himself, 
in a barter for greater power and durability. And the record of 
the taming of man is found in the “immortality symbols” that men 
have used and discarded across the face of history. Unlike Freud, 
Rank argued that all taboos, morals, customs, and laws represent a 
self-limitation of man so that he could transcend his condition, get 
more life by denying life. As he paradoxically put it, men seek to 
preserve their immortality rather than their lives. This way of look- 
ing at society represents a fundamental revision of Freud in the 
very central pillar of Freud’s system: the theory of sex, the idea that 
the primary aim of man is pleasure, the gratification of erotic drives. 
Freud said that man gives these drives up only grudgingly to 
society, and then only because he is forced to bv superior authority 
and power. Rank, on the other hand, said that sexual restrictions 
“from the first” were “voluntary, spontaneous” acts, not the result 
of external authority. 4 And the reason was that man was from the 
first willing to. barter his body for higher spiritual values, for more 
life; or, as we would put it technically, the body was the first thing 
that one abandoned for the project of cultural immortality, and it 


was abandoned, not because of fear of the fathers, but ironically 
because of love of life. Besides, if the individual is willing to re- 
nounce life, to shrink back from it in order to persevere, then he 
would also need society to map out safe sexuality for him. Rank 
makes the same quasi-cynical observation on this as Durkheim had: 
primitive social organization did not so much restrict the individual 
sexually as actually make it possible for him to have the sexual 
life that “he had always been neurotically ready to sacrifice for the 
sake of his personal immortality . 5 

We already have seen, with Hocart, how willingly primitive man 
embraced the institution of kingship because it was equated with 
prosperity; from the beginning men renounced some dimensions of 
life in order to open up others, and this is what made it easy for 
monolithic historical structures of power to take shape and to 
choke out life still more. All that these new structures had to do 
was to promise the same immortality, only now in different forms. 

The Family and the State, or the “Sexual Era” 

With the discovery of agriculture began the breakup of the 
primitive world, the rise of the early states; and now social organiza- 
tion came to be focused in the patriarchal family under the state’s 
legal protection. It was at this time that biological fatherhood be- 
came of dominant importance because it became the universal way 
of assuring personal immortality . 6 Rank called this the “sexual era” 
because physical paternity was fully recognized as the royal road to 
self-perpetuation via one’s children — in fact, it was one’s bounden 
duty. The institution of marriage extended from the king to his 
people, and every father became a kind of king in his own right, 
and his home a castle. Under Roman law the father had tyrannical 
rights over his family; he ruled over it legally; as Rank was quick 
to observe, famulus equals servant, slave . 7 In the primitive world, 
we might say, the child had been the bearer of the collective im- 
mortality, since it was through him that the souls of the ancestors 
reentered the world. This is one reason why many primitives 
handled their children so gently: the child was actually in the 
process of giving birth to himself with the help of the ancestral 

The New Historical Forms of Immortality Power 67 

spirit; if one was mean to him, the spirit might be upset and with- 
draw from this world. 

Under the ideology of the patriarchal family, the child becomes 
th.e individual successor to his father — actually, then, merely the son 
ol a father, and is no longer the independent mediator of spirits 
from the ancestral world. But this is now the only spiritual lineage 
ixii which the son can perpetuate himself in turn." This is why, too, 
fathers could be despotic with their children: they were merely 
objects to whom one had oneself given life. Today we are shocked 
when we read of the ancient Greek who blinded his sons for dis- 
obeying him and going off to war — but their lives were literally 
his personal property, and he had this authority and used it. 

What is of great interest in this development is the intimate 
unnity of patriarchal family ideology with that of kingship. The 
king represented the new fountainhead of spiritual power in which 
thie subjects were nourished. In primitive society the entire group 
hiad created magical power by means of the jointly celebrated ritual. 
B'ut with the gradual development of specialized ritualists and priests, 
the power to create power often fell to a special class and was no 
hunger the possession of the whole collectivity. Where this happened 
it helped to turn the average man into an impotent subject. In many 
agrarian societies the priests went on to develop astronomy, calen- 
dars, and rituals of power for the control of nature via magic, 
whereas previously each person had helped exercise such control 
via the communal rituals. Without the priests’ calendar, how would 
the farmer know the auspicious days for planting? With their 
astronomy the priests accrued the tremendous prestige of predicting 
eclipses; and then they exercised the fantastic power of bringing 
back the sun out of the clutches of darkness. Not only did they 
save the world from chaos in such ways, but in some places (e.g., 
India) they possessed the secret ritual for the creation of the king's 
power. Often the kings and priests were solidly allied in a structure 
of domination that monopolized all sacred power; this completed 
the development from the tribal level where the shaman would 
sometimes ally with the chief. All the poor subject could do in 
these societies was to grovel to the king and bring food to the 
priests in order to get a mite of magical protective power. The 
fathers imitated the kings so as to reenact the divine plan in their 
own homes; in this way they got a reflection of the kings powers. 



As Confucian thought had it, if the gentlemen observed proper 
ritual behavior, the kingdom would flourish. So long as everyone 
in the kingdom copied the king, fathered sons, married off daugh- 
ters, kept order in the family, and observed the household rituals, 
the balance of nature would not be upset in the “divine house- 

All this took place in the divine cities, which themselves were 
eternal, connected to heaven (Babylon equals Gate of the Gods), 
and protected and regenerated by the priestly rituals. Each city 
with its pyramidal temples and towers rose like a spire to penetrate 
the sky, the dimensions of invisible power, and to bathe itself in it. 
We can still feel this in the Gothic cathedral which penetrated 
heaven and was bathed in the light and powers of heaven. Rome 
is called “the eternal city” not because today tourists can always go 
back and find her as she was when they first visited her a few 
decades ago, but because she was regenerated in ancient times by 
centennial rituals, and was thought to have so much power sustain- 
ing her that she would never falter. One of the strong impetuses to 
the triumph of Christianity was the increasing sackings of Rome 
by the barbarians, which showed everyone that something was 
wrong with the old powers and some new magical sources had to be 

The divine king in the sacred city bathing the holy empire — 
these were a power tool in which the fathers nourished themselves 
while they assured their own perpetuation in the person of their 
sons. We can see that this represents a new kind of unification 
experience, with a focal point of power, that in its own way tries 
to recapture the intense unity of primitive society, with its focus of 
power in the clan and the ancestral spirits. The emperors and kings 
who proclaimed themselves divine did not do so out of mere mega- 
lomania, but out of a real need for a unification of experience, a 
simplification of it, and a rooting of it in a secure source of power. 
The leader, like the people, senses a need for a strongly focused 
moral unity of the sprawling and now senseless diversity of the 
kingdom, and he tries to embody it in his own person: 

By proclaiming themselves gods of empire, Sargon and Rameses wished 
to realize in their own persons that mystic or religious unity which once 

The New Historical Forms of Immortality Power 69 

constituted the strength of the clan, which still maintained the unity of 
the kingdom, and which could alone form the tie between all the peoples 
of an empire. Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies, and the Caesars, will, 
in their turn, impose upon their subjects the worship of the sovereign, 
not so much out of vanity as to consolidate moral unity. . . . And so 
through its mystic principle the clan has survived in the empire. 9 

We see this in Hindu, Confucian, and Japanese thought as well as 
Near Eastern and Mediterranean thought. 10 

The New Promise of the “Era of the Son” 

Christianity actually entered the confusion of the Roman world in 
order to simplify it and to lighten the terrible burdens of the mis- 
carried “sexual era,” as Rank so well understood. He saw Chris- 
tianity as the “era of the son” in revolt against the oppressions and 
inequalities of the era of the family. Under Christianity the spiritual 
fatherhood of Christ took the place of biological fatherhood of the 
family. Christ posed a totally new and radical question: “Who are 
my mother and my brothers?” The son was now completely indepen- 
dent; he could freely choose his own spiritual father and was no 
longer bound by the fatalities of heredity. The individual could 
fashion his own salvation, independent of any earthly authority. 
Christianity was a great democratization that put spiritual power 
right back into the hands of the single individual and in one blow 
wiped away the inequalities of the disposessed and the slaves that 
had gradually and inexorably developed since the breakup of the 
primitive world and that had assumed such grotesque proportions in 
the mad drivenness of the Mediterranean world. As many historical 
scholars have pointed out, Christianity in this sense dipped back 
into paganism, into primitive communalism, and extended it beyond 
the tribe. Rank understood this too — Christianity as a new form of 
democratic, universal, magical self -renewal. 11 The person recaptured 
some of the spiritual integrity that the primitive had enjoyed. 

But as in all things human, the whole picture is ambiguous and 
confused, far different from the ideal promise. Actually Christianity 



was harnessed by the state, and its power was infused into the 
institution of kingship to keep its authority; the attack on the 
fatality of biology, the accidents of heredity, was put into the 
service of the ideology of the family, and it reinforced patriarchy. 
We still see this in Roman Catholic countries today. In other words, 
Christianity failed to establish the universal democratic equality 
that it had promised historically — the reinstitution of the sacred 
primitive community plus a valuation of the individual person that 
had not existed before. Such a revolution in thought and in social 
forms would have kept everything that was best in the primitive 
world view, and at the same time it would have liberated the per- 
son from the dead weight of communal constraint and conser- 
vatism that choked off individual initiative and development. Ob- 
viously, this failure of Christianity was intimately tied up with the 
general problem of class, slavery, real economic inequality. These 
were simply too massive and ingrained in the whole fabric of 
ancient society to be abolished by a new ideology. This had been 
the tragedy that Rome herself was unable to resolve. As Rank under- 
stood, Rome created a new type of citizen but failed to carry 
through and create the necessary economic equality of the families, 
which was the only thing that could guarantee the new structure. 
After all, if each man was a king in his own family, he had to be an 
equal king with all others; otherwise the designation lost all mean- 
ing. Theoretically, the state was dedicated to this kind of democracy 
because it arrogated to itself the power to hold everything in 
balance, to checkmate competing powers and to protect the citizens 
against each other. In the earlier chiefdoms, the kin groups still 
kept their power, and there was no one to keep them from feuding 
among themselves. The chief’s kin group was usually the strongest, 
and he could punish those who attacked him, but he did not 
monopolize force as the later state did; he could not, for example, 
compel the people to go to war. The crucial characteristic of the 
state, and the hallmark of its genuine power and tyranny, was that 
it could compel its subjects to go to war. And this was because the 
power of each family was given over to the state; the idea was that 
this would prevent the social misuse of power. This made the state 
a kind of “power-bank,” as Rank put it 12 but the state never used 
this power to abolish economic inequalities; as a result it actually 

The New Historical Forms of Immortality Power 71 

misused the social power entrusted to it by the families and held 
them in unequal bondage. 1 ® 

Christianity, too, perpetuated this economic inequality and 
slavishness of the would-be free, democratic citizen; and there 
never has been, historically, any fundamental change in the massive 
structure of domination and exploitation represented by the state 
after the decline of primitive society. The Reformation was a late 
attempt to reassert the promise of early Christianity — true individ- 
ual power and equality — but it too failed by being absorbed in the 
unequal state scramble. It was not until World War I that the 
whole structure finally crumbled, after the rumbling blow given 
by the French Revolution: the patriarchal family, divine monarchy, 
the dominance of the Church, the credibility of the democratic state 
in its promise of true equality. The Soviets alone pushed several 
of these down a mine shaft along with the czar. We are struggling 
today in the mire of this very discredit of all overlapping traditional 
immortality symbols. As Rank understood, the struggle actually be- 
gan at the time of the Roman Empire, and we have still not resolved 
it. 14 We consult astrology charts like the Babylonians, try to make 
our children into our own image with a firm hand like the Romans, 
elbow others to get a breath-quickening glimpse of the queen in 
her ritual procession, and confess to the priests and attend church. 
And we wonder why, with all this power capital drawn from so 
many sources, we are deeply anxious about th6 meaning of our 
lives. The reason is plain enough: none of these, nor all of them 
taken together, represents an integrated world conception into 
which we fit ourselves with pure belief and trust. 

Not that the promise of the ancient world and of Christianity 
failed completely. Something potentially great did emerge out of 
them: what Rank called the “era of psychological man.” We can 
look at it as a development out of the “era of the son.” It took the 
form of a new kind of scientific individualism that burst out of the 
Renaissance and the Reformation. It represented a new power 
candidate for replacing all the previous ideologies of immortality, 
but now an almost completely and unashamedly secular one. This 
was a new Faustian pursuit of immortality through one’s own acts, 
his own works, his own discovery of truth. This was a kind of 
secular-humanist immortality based on the gifts of the individual. 



Instead of having one hero chieftain leading a tribe or a kingdom 
or one hero savior leading all of mankind, society would now be- 
come the breeding ground for the development of as many heroes 
as possible, individual geniuses in great number who would enrich 
mankind. This was the explicit program of Enlightenment thinkers 
and of the ideology of modern Jeffersonian democracy. 

But alas it has been our sad experience that the new scientific 
Faustian man too has failed — in two resounding ways, just as Rank 
understood. These two ways almost all by themselves sum up the 
crisis of the end of our century. For one thing, modern democratic 
ideology simply repeated the failure of Rome and of Christianity: it 
did not eliminate economic inequality . 15 And so it was caught in 
the same fundamental and tragic contradictions as its predecessors. 
Second, the hope of Faustian man was that he would discover 
Truth, obtain the secret to the workings of nature, and so assure the 
complete triumph of man over nature, his apotheosis on earth. Not 
only has Faustian man failed to do this, but he is actually ruining 
the very theater of his own immortality with his own poisonous 
and madly driven works; once he had eclipsed the sacred dimension, 
he had only the earth left to testify to the value of his life. This is 
why, I think, even one-dimensional politicians and bureaucrats, in 
both capitalist and communist countries, are becoming anxious 
about environmental collapse; the earth is the only area of self- 
perpetuation in the new ideology of Faustian man.® 

® Thus Rank’s view of succession of “immortality-ideologies” in history. I 
don’t want to get into a scholarly evaluation of Rank here, but only to cau- 
tion the reader not to be too critical of Rank’s "stages” of the evolution of 
consciousness. His work today gives the impression of an amateurish precision, 
of the kind of global judgments on history that early psychoanalysts liked to 
make. But this would not be fair to Rank. He was trying to put order into 
an immense mass of historical-psychological fact, and he forced a sharp con- 
ceptualization of it in order to "get it out” so that we could possess it and 
hopefully use it. I agree with Progoff’s judgment that Rank was too sophis- 
ticated a scholar to hold to a rigid theory of historical stages. Cf. I. Progoff, 
The Death and Rebirth of Psychology (New York: Dell, 1964), pp. 209, 215. 
I think Rank’s “eras” should be taken for the suggestivevalue they have, and 
as a basis for a really to-be-worked-out historical psychology; what they do is 
to bring out most forcefully the problem of immortality as a connecting 
thread throughout the historical forms of human arrangements. As we shall see 
in the next chapter. Brown brought out that other thread that cut through 
the "eras” and helped to blur them: the continuing immortality ideology 
of money. 


Money: The New Universal 
Immortality Ideology 

The adult flight from death — the immortality 
promised in all religions, the immortality of 
familial corporations, the immortality of cultural 
achievements — perpetuates the Oedipal project 
of becoming father of oneself: adult sublimation 
continues the Oedipal project. . . . Thus man 
acquires a soul distinct from his body, and a 
superorganic culture which perpetuates the revolt 
against organic dependence on the mother. The 
soul and the superorganic culture perpetuate both 
the Oedipal causa sui project and that horror of 
biological fact which is the essence of the 
castration complex. 
Norman O. Brown 1 

At the beginning of the last chapter I said that there were two 
recent epoch-making orderings of history, and now we are ready 
to take up the second — the work of Norman O. Brown. I think that 
Rank and Brown taken together represent a massive double ex- 
posure of the basic motives of the human condition; I don’t believe 
that previous modes of thought about man in society can long 
remain unaffected by their work. For his sweep over history Brown 
used the identical unifying principle of Rank: the universal urge 
to immortality. And so he could arrive at exactly the conclusion of 
Rank: if immortality is the unchangeable motive, then all social 
custom is essentially sacred . 2 One of the main contributions of 
Brown’s Life against Death was to pull together the basic ideas for 
a sacred theory of money power. It is all contained in his astonish- 
ing and regaling chapter titled “Filthy Lucre.” As a condensed 




synthesis of significant ideas it is one of the great essays in the 
history of thought. Let me just give a sketch of Brown’s thesis on 
money, to see how it supports and confirms Rank’s and how it adds 
its own vital insight into the evolution of new structures of power. 

We saw that with the decline of the primitive world and with 
the rise of kingship men came to imitate kings in order to get 
power. Now what did kings pursue besides immortality in the royal 
family? Why of course: silks, courtesans, fine swords, horses and mon- 
uments, city palaces and country estates — all the things that can be 
bought with gold. If you gained immortality by leaving behind earthly 
sons, why not equally gain it by leaving behind vast accumulations 
of other physical mementos to your image? And so the pursuit of 
money was also opened up to the average man; gold became the 
new immortality symbol. In the temple buildings, palaces, and 
monuments of the new cities we see a new kind of power being 
generated. No longer the power of the totemic communion of 
persons, but the power of the testimonial of piles of stone and gold. 
As Brown so succinctly put it: 

In monumental form, as money or as the city itself, each generation 
inherits the ascetic achievements of its ancestors ... as a debt to be 
paid by further accumulation of monuments. Through the city the sins 
of the fathers are visited upon the children, every city has a history and 
a rate of interest . 3 

In other words, the new patriarchy passes not only family im- 
mortality to the son, but also accumulated gold, property, and 
interest — and the duty to accumulate these in tum. The son assures 
his own self-perpetuation by being “greater” than the father: by 
leaving behind a larger mark. Immortality comes to reside no longer 
in the invisible world of power, but in the very visible one, and 
“death is overcome by accumulating time-defying monuments. These 
accumulations of stone and gold make possible the discovery of 
the immortal soul. . . . Death is overcome on condition that the 
real actuality of life pass into these immortal and dead things; 
money is the man; the immortality of the estate or a corporation 
resides in the dead things which alone endure .” 4 The pyramid 
directed its hope of immortality to the sky which it tried to pene- 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 75 

trate, but it displayed itself before men and laid its heavy burden 
on their backs. 

Brown gave us a more incisive picture than Rank, then, by fixing 
firmly on the mechanism of the corruption of the primitive. To 
carry through with our metaphor, if Rank showed the heartbeat of 
history, Brown exposed the material that flowed in the veins, and 
that material was gold. Man now took the sacred and tried to give 
it monumental, enduring form; it was natural, then, that in the city 
he finally settled upon the most durable precious metals. If the 
new dramatization of immortality was to be in the power and 
glitter of the visible rather than the invocation of the invisible, 
then that drama had to be transferred from the group to the new 
magic object, money. Money is the new “totemic” possession. 5 

This equation of money and totemic spirits is not meant to be 
frivolous. With the decline of tribal society, rituals were also dis- 
credited. Yet man needed new rituals because they gave order and 
form to society and magically tied the whole world of experience 
together. And this is probably the fundamental reason that money 
entered the picture in the ancient world with such ineluctable 
force: it filled the vacuum left by ritual and itself became the new 
ritual focus. Mary Douglas makes just this equation of money and 
ritual in a very powerful way: 

Money provides a fixed, external, recognizable sign for what would be 
confused, contradictable operations: ritual makes visible external signs 
of internal states. Money mediates transactions; ritual mediates ex- 
perience, including social experience. Money provides a standard for 
measuring worth; ritual standardizes situations, and so helps to evalu- 
ate them. Money makes a link between the present and the future, so 
does ritual. The more we reflect on the richness of the metaphor, the 
more it becomes clear that this is no metaphor. Money is only an extreme 
and specialized type of ritual. 6 

Let us see how the ritual fascination of money began in the 
ancient world, and how it took over as an immortality focus in 
itself. One of the fascinating chapters in history is the evolution of 
money — all the more so since it has yet to be written, as Brown 
says. 7 One of the reasons it isn’t written is that the origin of money 
is shrouded in prehistory; another is that its development must have 


7 6 

varied, must not have followed a single, universal line. Still a third 
reason touches closer to home: modem man seems to have trouble 
understanding money; it is too close to him, too much a part of 
his life. As someone once remarked, the last thing a fish would 
discover is water, since it is so unconsciously and naturally a part 
of its life. But beyond all this, as Brown has so well understood, 
the reason money is so elusive to our understanding is that it is 
still sacred, still a magical object on which we rely for our entrance 
into immortality. Or, put another way, money is obscure to analysis 
because it is still a living myth, a religion. Oscar Wilde observed 
that “religions die when one points out their truth. Science is the 
history of dead religions.” From this point of view, the religion of 
money has resisted the revelation of its truth; it has not given 
itself over to science because it has not wanted to die. 

How else explain that we do not yet have a sacred history of 
money, despite the massive collection of anthropological and his- 
torical monographs, the observations by Plato and Aristotle them- 
selves, those by Augustine on money fetishism, the writings of 
Simmel and later German and French scholars, the fascinating 
thoughts of Spengler, the trenchant essays of A. M. Hocart, the 
insights of Marx, and now, finally, of modem psychoanalysis? This 
is where Brown’s synthetic talents come into the problem: he 
leaned on this long tradition, including Freud’s theory of anality, 
and raked over it all with a penetration and doggedness that re- 
minded one of Das Kapital. Brown showed that despite all the 
expert hemmings and hawings, money was what it was — sacred 
power — and not another thing. There is no purpose in repeating 
here Brown’s running argument with key authorities; let me just 
sum up the high points, partly from my own point of view. 

We get many key insights into the early history of money, even 
though it is shrouded in obscurity. For one thing, anthropologists 
have long known that money existed on primitive levels of social 
life; and when we took Anthropology 1A, we were amused at the 
“perversity” of primitives. Imagine such bizarre things as dogs’ 
teeth, sea shells, bands of feathers, and mats being used as money! 
These things not only seem to us worthless, they may even be 
repugnant to our sense of what is “proper” to carry around and to 
value. The key to the whole thing is, of course, that we live in a 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 77 

different power world than did the primitives. For us, motors, guns, 
electric circuits embody power, for the primitives, power resided 
in the qualities of living things and in the organs that embodied 
those qualities: teeth equaled biting and tearing power, with their 
uncanny smoothness and white luster and their terrible destructive- 
ness to living beings; feathers equaled the freedom and miracu- 
lousness of flight; and so on. 8 These forms of primitive money, 
then, did not have mere ornamental value or practical exchange 
value as we understand it; they had real spirit-power value. And 
when it comes to the evolution of our own money we must look 
to the same source, to its origin in magic amulets or tokens, as 
Brown — basing himself on Laum — understood. 

The noted historian G. Eliot Smith put together ap interesting 
speculation on the origin of gold as a thing of great value in an- 
cient Egypt. What leads man to assign great value to something? 
That it gives life, enables man to triumph over weakness and 
death by borrowing some of the powers of the gods. Eliot Smith 
put together the following development: There was a cowrie shell 
in the Red Sea which came to be prized as a token of life-giving 
powers, as an amulet to ward off the danger of death and to pro- 
long the existence of the souls of those already dead. It was an 
immortality symbol, then, that came to be identified with the god- 
dess Hathor, the divine cow, the Great Mother. Eliot Smith says: 

The people of Egypt began to make models of these and other magical 
shells in clay, stone and any other material that came to hand. These 
were believed to have the magic of the real shells. ... In the course 
[of time they] discovered that they could make durable and attractive 
models by using the soft plastic metal which was lying around unused 
and unappreciated in the Nubian desert. . . . The lightness and beauty 
of the untarnishable yellow metal made an instant appeal. The gold 
models soon became more popular than the original shells, and the 
reputation for life-giving was then in large measure transferred from the 
mere form of the amulet to the metal itself. 9 

In other words, the powers of the god came to be present in the 

In India, as Hocart so clearly showed, gold was straightforwardly 
identified with the fire god Agni. Gold could be substituted for 



the sun in the sacred ritual. Hocart quotes this telling passage from 
the S atapatha Brahamana: 

For this gold plate is the same as truth. Yonder sun is the same as 
truth. It is made of gold: for gold is light, and he (the sun) is light; 
gold is immortality, and he is immortality; it is round, for he is round. . . . 
Indeed, this gold plate is the sun. 10 

Hocart, in his masterful little essay, "Money,” suggests a common 
origin for the gold coin, the crown, and the halo, since all three 
represent the sun’s disc. (We liked to imagine that we knew coins 
were round because they could fit more comfortably in our pock- 
ets. ) The great economist Keynes agreed that the special attraction 
of gold and silver as primary monetary values was due to their 
symbolic identification with the sun and the moon, which occupied 
a primary sacred place in the early “cosmic government” cosmolo- 
gies. Even more fascinating is the fact that the value ratio of gold 
and silver has remained stable from classical antiquity through the 
Middle Ages and even into modem times as 1:1312. Brown agrees 
with Laum that such a stability cannot be explained in logical terms 
of rational supply and demand: the explanation must lie in the 
astrological ratio of the cycles of the divine counterparts of these 
metals — the sun and moon. 11 We have forgotten how tenacious 
astrological magic has been in history, even in the face of its vitality 
still today. Man has always sought to discover the special magical 
properties in nature and to bring them to bear in his life. The 
ancients sought these special qualities in qualities of living things, 
in natural miraculous objects like the sun, and in the ratios they 
could tease out of nature. Until very modem times, to take one 
example, musical instruments were built in magical astrological 
proportions so as to make the most divinely harmonious sounds; 
and I personally know one inspired guitar maker who uses the 
ancient “Greek foot” as a basic measure. 

Currency, then, seems to have had its origin in magic amulets 
and magic imitations of the sun, which were worn or stored be- 
cause they contained the protecting spirit powers. If gold had any 
"utility,” as Hocart says, it was a supernatural utility: “a little of 
it was given away in exchange for quantities of stuff because a few 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 79 

ounces of divinity were worth pounds of gross matter.” 12 And so 
we see how it was that money came to buy many other things: if 
it was magic, people would give anything to have it. As Geza 
R6heim put it in a very happy formulation, “originally people do 
not desire money because you can buy things for it, but you can 
buy things for money because people desire it. is 

If gold was sacred, we can now understand — with Simmel and 
Hocart — how it was that the first banks were temples and the first 
ones to issue money were the priests. With the ascendancy of 
priestcraft it became the priests themselves who monopolized the 
official traffic in sacred charms and in the exchange of favors for 
gold. The first mints were set up in the temples of the gods, whence 
our word “money” — from the mint in the temple of Juno Moneta, 
Juno the admonisher, on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Forgery was 
sacrilege because the coins embodied the powers of the gods and 
only the priests could handle such powers; we get the same feeling 
about counterfeiters today, that they are practicing an unspeakable 
usurpation of hallowed powers. 

The temples, then, were clearinghouses for money transactions, 
just like banks today. It was surely not lost on the priests — the first 
leisure class — that the tiniest quantity of sacred gold-power could 
bring in huge amounts of food and other stuffs. Priests may have 
talents for dealing with the supernatural, but they have very human 
appetite (and often lots of it); and if they have the leisure to ply 
their trade, it is because since earliest times they have convinced 
their fellows that it is important to assure that leisure by bringing 
part of the fruit of the sweat of their brow to the priests. And so 
the food producers must have brought food to the temples in 
exchange for prayers and sacrifices being performed on their be- 
half. Also, it must have worked the other way too: gold was a fee 
paid to the priest for his intercessions with the invisible powers. 
As Hocart pointed out, in India the gold fee was the proper one 
to pay to a god, whose essence was gold. 14 Whence the tradition 
of the earliest coins being imprinted with the images of gods, then 
divine kings, down to presidents in our time. All visitors to the 
most holy temples could bring back with them gold encapsulations 
of sacred power that would keep them safe throughout the year. 
As we finger, in our pocket, the face on the silver dollar, we re- 



experience some of the quiet confidence of the ancients who left 
the temples with their life-securing charms. Today clerics similarly 
finger the souvenir medallions of their visit to holy Rome, and over 
the years they wear away the face of the Pope on these medallions. 
The Pope’s power is present in the effigy just like the god’s was 
in the coin. 

We know that the priests were part of the immortality ideology 
of what has aptly been called “cosmic government” and “the astro- 
biological unification of divine kingship.” We have already de- 
scribed the hierarchy: the king got his powers from the heavens 
and radiated them in his own person to the people with the help 
of the priests, to the benefit of the patriarchal families. We might 
say that money coinage fit beautifully into this scheme, because 
now the cosmic powers could be the property of everyman, without 
even the need to visit temples: you could now traffic in immor- 
tality in the marketplace. Nor is this just a manner of speaking, 
for this traffic was a most serious new business that arose. Admit- 
tedly, when we reconstruct the phenomenological history of money 
it is impossible for us moderns to “get into the mind and behind 
the eyes” of the ancient negotiators. But a new man emerged in 
the ancient world, a man who based the value of his life — and so 
of his immortality — on a new cosmology centered on coins. We 
can’t very well grasp what the painting visible even today at the 
entrance of a house in the ruins of Pompeii meant to the owner of 
the house or to the passerby whom it was obviously supposed to 
impress. But a picture of a man proudly weighing his penis in a 
scale of gold coins must convey a feeling that the powers of nature 
as exemplified in the reproductive life force have their equivalency 
in gold, even perhaps that fatherhood is given by gold as well as 
the penis — and generally that the causa sui project is well in hand. 
And the two chests of coins just inside the entrance, adjacent to 
the sleeping rooms of the adult occupants, surely convey the new 
way of life based on the feeling in the painting. Money became 
the distilled value of all existence, as Spengler seems to have under- 
stood so well: 

When . . . Corinth was destroyed, the melting-down of the statues for 
coinage and the auctioning of the inhabitants at the slave-mart were, 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 81 

for Classical minds, one and the same operation — the transformation of 
corporeal objects into money. 15 

Or, we might say, into a single immortality symbol, a ready way of 
relating the increase of oneself to all the important objects and 
events of one’s world. In this sense, money seems to have repre- 
sented a cosmological unification of visible and invisible powers — 
powers of the gods, of kings, of heroic victors in war — and the 
distillation of the booty of war. And at the center of this cosmology 
stood the person himself with the visible counters of his own in- 
crease, the divine testimonial to his own immortal worth, distilling 
and spanning both worlds. 

It is along lines such as these that we have to understand the 
meaning of money, from its very inception in prehistory and from 
its explosive development with the invention of coinage in the 
ancient world. Money is sacred as all cultural things are sacred. As 
Rank taught us and as Brown so powerfully reaffirmed, “Custom 
is . . . essentially sacred” — and why should money be any excep- 
tion? 16 The thing that connects money with the domain of the 
sacred is its power. We have long known that money gives power 
over men, freedom from family and social obligations, from friends, 
bosses, and underlings; it abolishes one’s likeness to others; it 
creates comfortable distance between persons, easily satisfies their 
claims on each other without compromising them in any direct 
and personal way; on top of this it gives literally limitless ability 
to satisfy appetites of almost any material kind. Power is not an 
economic category, and neither is it simply a social category: “All 
power is essentially sacred power.” 17 This is perfect. All power is 
in essence power to deny mortality. Either that or it is not real 
power at all, not ultimate power, not the power that mankind is 
really obsessed with. Power means power to increase oneself, to 
change one’s natural situation from one of smallness, helplessness, 
finitude, to one of bigness, control, durability, importance. In its 
power to manipulate physical and social reality money in some 
ways secures one against contingency and accident; it buys body- 
guards, bullet-proof glass, and better medical care. Most of all, it 
can be accumulated and passed on, and so radiates its powers even 
after one’s death, giving one a semblance of immortality as he lives 



in the vicarious enjoyments of his heirs that his money continues 
to buy, or in the magnificence of the art works that he commis- 
sioned, or in the statues of himself and the majesty of his own 
mausoleum. In short, money is the human mode par excellence 
of coolly denying animal boundness, the determinism of nature. 

And here Brown takes issue with orthodox Freudian theory and 
makes a real improvement on it, makes it amenable to our under- 
standing in one of its most inverted and esoteric areas. We have 
always been put off when psychoanalysts equated money with 
feces — it seemed so crass and unreal. We cannot imagine pure 
pleasure in playing with feces; even to children feces are ambiva- 
lent and to some degree distasteful. If as tiny infants they play 
with feces, it is at a time when feces can have no precise meaning 
to them; if later on they play with feces, this is already a different 
kind of play, a play of mastery of anxiety, a dealing with a very 
ambivalent area of experience. Also, it has always seemed simplistic 
to say that money equals feces, because money has been so super- 
charged with the yearning of ambition and hope; it could not be 
merely infantile smearing, not simple self-indulgence. In fact, as 
Brown has so well argued, money does not equal feces at all, does 
not represent them at all: rather, it represents the denial of feces, 
of physicalness, of animality, of decay and death. 

To rise above the body is to equate the body with excrement. In the 
last analysis, the peculiar human fascination with excrement is the 
peculiar human fascination with death . 18 

Money is associated with the anal region because it represents par 
excellence the abstract cultural mode of linking man with tran- 
scendent powers. As Marx so unfailingly understood, it is the 
perfect “fetish” for an ape-like animal who bemuses himself with 
striking icons. Money sums up the causa sui project all in itself: 
how man, with the tremendous ingenuity of his mind and the 
materials of his earth, can contrive the dazzling glitter, the magical 
ratios, the purchase of other men and their labors, to link his 
destiny with the stars and live down his animal body . 18 The only 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 83 

hiint we get of the cultural repression seeping through is that even 
dedicated financiers wash their hands after handling money. The 
victory over death is a fantasy that cannot be fully believed in; 
money doesn’t entirely banish feces, and so the threat of germs and 
vulnerability in the very process of securing immortality. If we say 
that “money is God,” this seems like a simple and cynical obser- 
vation on the corruptibility of men. But if we say that “money 
negotiates immortality and therefore is God,” this is a scientific 
formula that is limpidly objective to any serious student of man. 

Nor do we have to dig back into prehistory and conjecture on 
what money meant to the ancient Greeks or Pompeiians. We see 
the: change from tribal modes of achieving power to money modes 
riglbit before our eyes: the drama of early Athenian society is re- 
peal ted in any area where detribalization is taking place. Tempels’s 
continent on the modem Bantu eloquently sums up the new man 
whc< emerged in history and continues to emerge: 

Recently I have heard Bantu of the old school say, with reference to 
our modem product, the Europeanized evolues “These are men of 
lupeto (money).” They have explained to me that these Europeanized 
youitiig men of ours know nothing but money, that it is the only thing 
possessing any value for them. They . . . give up their Bantu philosophy 
... for a philosophy of money. Money is their one and only ideal, their 
end and the supreme ultimate norm regulating their actions. . . . Every- 
thing . . . has been destroyed by this new value, this modern universal 
rule of conduct: lupeto, money. 20 

Hew to understand this obsessive, fanatical shift that occurs in one 
generation, right under the eyes of the elders, except to see it as a 
hunger for self-perpetuation, a hunger driven by the discredit into 
which the traditional immortality ideology has fallen? The rapid 
and utter disintegration of tribal society has always been, histori- 
cally, the result of the discredit of old sources of immortalizing 
powers and the belief that the new ways of life brought by the 
foreigners contain the genuine, the stronger powers. The old group 
no longer gives life, and so the young chuck the social obligations 



in iavor of real, new power over men and things. Missionary ac- 
tivity has gone hand in hand with superior weapons and medicines 
because the priests have always known that they have to prove 
that their god represents superior powers. Think; if a race of men 
with advanced learning, health, and weapons were to land on our 
planet and tell us about the god who sustains them in Alpha 
Centauri, a new religion would sweep over large numbers of peo- 
ple overnight and discredit most of our institutions. 

Thus money has been the single red line connecting the various 
failed historical ideologies of immortality — from lupeto men called 
by a hundred other tribal names, through Pompeii, through the 
buying of indulgences in the Middle Ages, through Calvin and 
modern commercialism. Underneath the different historical forms of 
immortality striving has pulsated the lifeblood of money. In this 
sense, the social-structural forms of immortality striving that suc- 
ceeded each other up to modem times have been a kind of mask 
or fa<jade over the deeper-going immortality symbol, money. Rank 
didn’t talk about this dualism, but he surely understood it. He 
spoke about the failure of the ideology of democracy to really do 
what it promised — to make everyone economically and socially 
equal. Remember we saw that Roman patriarchy failed to do this, 
as did Christianity. How explain this failure of an immortality 
ideology to give what it promises, except to say that at some 
deeper level it is all the while giving another kind of immortality? 
Otherwise men would not have it at all. As Rank put it, in a 
phrase that he left enigmatic, economic equality is “beyond the 
endurance of the democratic type” of man . 21 How to understand 
such an unsettling and radical idea, except by a psychology of 
money as sacred power? Money gives power now — and, through 
accumulated property, land, and interest, power in the future. Man 
has become dependent on social symbols of prestige that single 
him out as especially worthy of being remembered in the eyes of 
the gods and in the minds of men. But for an animal who actually 
lives on the level of the visible and knows nothing of the invisible, 
it is easy for the eyes of men to take precedence over the eyes 
of the gods. The symbols of immortal power that money buys exist 
on the level of the visible, and so crowd out their invisible com- 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 85 

petitor. Man succumbs easily to the temptation of created life, 
which is to exercise power mainly in the dimension in which he 
moves and acts as an organism. The pull of the body is so strong, 
lived experience is so direct; the “supernatural” is so remote and 
problematic, so abstract and intangible. This is what Bunuel wanted 
to show with his feasting and corrupt priests in the film Tristana: 
even the ones who claim to give priority to the invisible cannot 
fight the pull of appetite for wine and meat, the prerogatives and 
security that money gives. And this, too, of course, is the traditional 
meaning of the symbol of the Devil: he represents physical, earthly, 
visible power and on this planet easily holds sway over his more 
ethereal competitor, spiritual power. This is what theologians have 
meant when they have said that on this earth God must obey the 
Devil. 22 The earth runs on physical laws. The Devil, in Bunuel’s 
film, is the human head striking inside the church bell, the living 
flesh that hopelessly corrupts the ethereal music. 

No wonder economic equality is beyond the endurance of modem 
democratic man: the house, the car, the bank balance are his im- 
mortality symbols. Or, put another way, if a black man moves next 
door, it is not merely that your house diminishes in real estate 
value, but that you diminish in fullness on the level of visible 
immortality — and so you die. Things have given immortality prob- 
ably since the rise of the earliest states, but in modem times this 
one-dimensionality of the level of the visible has ran wild. For one 
thing, the decline of traditional religion has eclipsed the god whose 
eyes judged merit according to the goods you piled up. Hand in 
hand with this, the ideology of modem commercialism has un- 
leashed a life of invidious comparison unprecedented in history, 
as Scheler and others understood. In other words, modem man 
cannot endure economic equality because he has no faith in self- 
transcendent, otherworldly immortality symbols; visible physical 
worth is the only thing he has to give him eternal life. 2 ’ No wonder 
that people segregate themselves with such consuming dedication, 
that specialness is so much a fight to the death: man lashes out 
all the harder when he is cornered, when he is a pathetically 
impoverished immortality seeker. He dies when his little symbols of 
specialness die. Occasionally modem man is moved to philosophize 



on the human condition, and stumbles on the great insight that 
“you can’t take it with you.” This leads him to pause and heave a 
sigh over the perversity of nature, but it doesn’t really touch him, 
since he leaves behind precisely the immortal marks of his own 
achievement.® He might feel self-pity and bitterness about the one- 
dimensionality of his immortality, but in matters of eternity you 
take what you can get. 

No wonder, either, that the other modem ideology of egalitarian- 
ism has also found real economic equality to be unendurable. Are 
we puzzled that the Soviets create new prestige classes, push the 
patriarchal family and the careers of their children, and pursue 
money and goods? They too exist only on the level of the visible, 
and must somehow secure their immortality here. At the beginning 
of the revolution they got immortality by merging with the “to- 
temic” group soul of revolutionary activity; now they must try to 
establish the marks of each one’s personal merit. This is one of the 
reasons, finally, that primitive Christianity is a real threat to both 
commercialism and communism, at least when it takes its own 
message seriously. Primitive Christianity is one of the few ideologies 
that has kept alive the idea of the invisible dimension of nature 
and the priority of this dimension for assuring immortality. Thus it 
is a threat to any one-dimensional immortality ideology, and could 
work in a democracy that modem democratic man himself finds 
too burdensome, a society free of class and race struggle, because 
symbols of class and race prestige don’t carry weight in the realm 
of the invisible spirit. The Pope’s recent declaration celebrating 
the eightieth anniversary of the first social-problem encyclical is an 
eloquent reminder of how early Christian radicalism rumbles under 
the one-dimensional obsessiveness of modem industrial life. Chris- 
tianity is still an almost pure “primitive” accusation of the corrup- 
tions of lupeto, of 2,500 years of history. 

* I think it is along these lines, too, that the assertion that primitive societies 
were often paranoid makes sense. Anyone who distinguished himself by too 
many exploits accrued too much power, and so he was a danger to the group. 
Since primitives did not have the legal apparatus for protecting the group 
against stron g individuals, they were naturally feared; ar| d so there was a sort 
or built-in pressure for keeping things level and power in balance: Cf. Franz 
Borkenau’s comment in his rich essay "The Concept of Death,” The Twentieth 
Century, 1955, 157:317. 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 


The Demonics of History 

Immortality power, then, came to reside in accumulated wealth. 
And once individuals and families were free to negotiate their 
value in this kind of coinage, there was no stopping the process. 
One of the merits of Brown’s analysis is that he saw, with Eliade, 
how necessary to this new development was the change in notions 
of time. Primitive man lived in a world devoid of clocks, progres- 
sive calendars, once-only numbered years. Nature was seen in her 
imagined purity of endless cycles of sun risings and settings, moon 
waxings and wanings, seasons changing, animals dying and being 
bom, etc. This kind of cosmology is not favorable to the accumu- 
lation of either guilt or property, since everything is wiped away 
with the gifts and nature is renewed with the help of ritual cere- 
monies of regeneration. Man did not feel that he had to pile things 
up. Brown makes the excellent point that it is not quite true to 
say that primitive man lived in an “eternal now”: he experienced 
the flow of time because he experienced guilt. That is, in terms of 
our discussion of guilt, primitive man lived in certain universal 
binds that characterize human life, and so he had to experience 
time flow because these binds are composed with the passage of 
time. Guilt and time, then, are inseparable, which is why primitive 
man so elaborately tried to deny them both with regenerative 
rituals . 14 It took the longest time for this denial to be given up; 
the Greeks and Romans were reluctant to admit that the old 
regenerative rituals no longer worked. Probably the repeated sack- 
ings of Rome graphically swung the balance. It could no longer be 
pretended that the ancient rituals of renewal could keep regenerat- 
ing the city, and at this time growing numbers of people opted 
for Christianity, which promised the impending end of the world; 
after Augustine, time was firmly set in a linear way while waiting 
for that end. We are still today ticking off the years, but we no 
longer know what for, unless it is for compounding interest, as 
Brown argues. Compounding interest is one of the few meaningful 
things to do in an irreversible time stream that is wholly secular 
and visible. 



No wonder the confusion of the ancient world was so great and 
tension and anxiety were so high: men had already amassed great 
burdens of guilt by amassing possessions, and there was no easy 
way to atone for this. Men were no longer safely tucked into the 
group, but they still had their human burdens. As Brown puts it, 
men were still in flight from themselves, from their own mortality . 25 
The- burden of time, the tension between the visible and the in- 
visible worlds, and the guilt of possessions must have been high 
on sensitive souls. This is how we understand the growth of the 
notion of “sin” historically. Theologically, sin means literally separa- 
tion from the powers and protection of the gods, a setting up of 
oneself as a causa sui. Sin is the experience of uncertainty in one’s 
relation to the divine ground of his being; he no longer is sure of 
possessing the right connection, the right means of expiation. He 
feels alone, exposed, weighed down by the burden of guilt ac- 
cumulated in this world by the acts of his body and his material 
desires. His experience of the physicalness of life obsesses him. 
Modem missionaries found that the notion of sin was difficult to 
translate to primitives, who had no word for it; we understand 
now that they had little experience of isolation or separateness from 
the group or the ancestral pool of souls . 26 The experience of sin 
still today, for simple believers, is merely one of “uncleanliness” 
and straightforward prohibition of specific acts. It is not the ex- 
perience of one’s whole life as a problem. 

No wonder that early converts to Christianity could renounce 
everything in a decisive way that today seems strangely self- 
sacrificial to us. We are not in the same bind. We have completely 
eclipsed the tension of the invisible-visible dichotomy by simply 
denying the invisible world. We have put time on a wholly uni- 
linear basis, and so money and cumulative interest have become 
our unequivocal god. Christianity proved to be an idealistic inter- 
lude that failed; and so we have reaffirmed the ancient pursuit of 
wealth with a vengeance and straightforward dedication of which 
archaic man was incapable. We have become completely secular. 
Accordingly, we no longer have any problem with sin, since there 
is nothing to be separated from: everything is here, in one’s pos- 
sessions, in his body. There is no experience of sin where the body 
is not felt to be a problem, where one imagines that he does indeed 

Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology 89 

have full control over his own destiny on the physical level alone. 
Separation from the divine powers is not felt because these powers 
are denied by the primary power of the visible things. In other 
words, we have succeeded better than even the primitives in avoid- 
ing sin, by simply denying the existence of the invisible dimension 
to which it is related. In contrast with guilt, we don’t even have 
to repress it, since it does not arise in our experience of the world. 

Brown points out that the secularization of the economy means 
that we can no longer be redeemed by work, since the creation 
of a surplus is no longer addressed as a gift to the gods. Which 
means that the new god Money that we pursue so dedicatedly is 
not a god that gives expiation! It is perverse. We wonder how we 
could allow ourselves to do this to ourselves, but right away we 
know the answer: we didn’t take command of history at some given 
point where civilization started. Not even the noble and thoughtful 
Athenians could manage that. Rather, history took command of us 
in our original drivenness toward heroism; and our urge to heroism 
has always taken the nearest means at hand. Brown says that the 
result of this secularization process is that we have an economy 
“driven by the pure sense of guilt, unmitigated by any sense of 
redemption.” 27 What has happened to guilt? It is "repressed by 
denial into the unconscious” — which can only mean that we are 
“more uncontrollably driven” by it. Another way of putting this is 
to say that man has changed from the giving animal, the one who 
passes things on, to the wholly taking and keeping one. By con- 
tinually taking and piling and computing interest and leaving to 
one’s heirs, man contrives the illusion that he is in complete control 
of his destiny. After all, accumulated things are a visible testimonial 
to power, to the fact that one is not limited or dependent. Man 
imagines that the causa sui project is firmly in his hands, that he 
is the heroic maker and doer who takes what he creates, what is 
rightfully his. And so we see how modem man, in his one- 
dimensional economics, is driven by the lie of his life, by his denial 
of limitation, of the true state of natural affairs. 

If we sum it all up historically, we seem to be able to say that 
man became a greater victim of his drivenness when heroism pushed 
expiation out of the picture; man was now giving expression to 
only one side of his nature. He still needs expiation for the peace 


of his life because he is stuck with his natural and universal ex- 
perience of guilt. Brown says that the "man who takes is strong 
enough to shoulder his own guilt,” that the process of expiation 
of modem man “has been reified and passes into piles of stone 
and gold .” 28 Granted that money represents the new causa sui 
project, that the infantile omnipotence is no longer in one’s body 
but in things. But to repress guilt is not to “shoulder” it; it is not 
that guilt has vanished by being transmuted into things or expiated 
by things; rather, as Freud taught us, that which is denied must 
come out by some other means. History is the tragic record of 
heroism and expiation out of control and of man’s efforts to earn 
expiation in new, frantically driven and contrived ways. The burden 
of guilt created by cumulative possessions, linear time, and secu- 
larization is assuredly greater than that experienced by primitive 
man; it has to come out some way. 

The point I am making is that most of the evil that man has 
visited on his world is the result precisely of the greater passion 
of his denials and his historical drivenness. This leads us directly 
from problems of psychoanalysis and history right up to the prob- 
lem of the science of man itself: what is the nature of evil in 
human affairs, and how can we come to grips with it as thoughtful 
men trying to take back some control over our own destiny, trying 
to fish ourselves out of the whirlpool of our historical passion? The 
only way that seems open to reason is to continue to try to soberly 
sort out our own motives, those that have led to our present state. 


The Basic Dynamic of Human Evil 

All our human problems, with their intolerable 
sufferings, arise from man’s ceaseless attempts to 
make this material world into a man-made reality 
. . . aiming to achieve on earth a “perfection” 
which is only to be found in the beyond . . . 
thereby hopelessly confusing the values of both 

Otto Rank 1 - 

These words by Otto Rank, if read quickly, seem like a wise enough 
commentary on human folly: we always knew man tried to achieve 
the impossible, that he was a proud, confused, and stubborn ani- 
mal and that because of it he got into mischief. Like a puppy 
with a shoe or a kitten with a ball of string, man tends to endear 
himself to us because of the swashbuckling ways in which he tries 
to grasp reality. But Rank’s words are not a mere commentary 
about an endearing, pathetic, and confused animal. They are much 
more than that: they are a complete scientific formula about the 
cause of evil in human affairs. We know today that the world- 
historical importance of psychoanalysis is precisely that it has re- 
vealed to us the dynamics of human misery. 

You can see this most clearly not in the works of Freud, but in 
those who dissented from his work. Take three disparate thinkers 
like Otto Rank, Wilhelm Reich, and Carl Jung. There is nothing to 
identify them with one another except that they dissented from 
Freud; each had his own work and distinctive style, sometimes at 
a polar opposite from the other dissenters. What two people are 
more dissimilar than Reich and Jung? Yet at the bottom of all 
this unlikeness there is the fact of a fundamental agreement on 
what exactly causes evil in human affairs. This is not a remarkable 

9 1 



coincidence: it is a solid scientific achievement that argues for the 
basic truth of what the dissenters found. 

We have already had a preview of this truth in our overview of 
history with Rank: that man wants above all to endure and prosper, 
to achieve immortality in some way. Because he knows he is mortal, 
the thing he wants most to deny is this mortality. Mortality is 
connected to the natural, animal side of his existence; and so man 
reaches beyond and away from that side. So much so that he tries 
to deny it completely. As soon as man reached new historical forms 
of power, he turned against the animals with whom he had pre- 
viously identified — with a vengeance, we now see, because the 
animals embodied what man feared most, a nameless and faceless 

I have shown elsewhere that the whole edifice of Rank’s superb 
thought is built on a single foundation stone: man’s fear of life 
and death. There is no point repeating this here except to remind 
us why these fundamental motives are so well hidden from our- 
selves. After all, it took the genius of Freud and the whole psy- 
choanalytic movement to uncover and document the twin fears of 
life and death. The answer is that men do not actually live stretched 
openly on a rack of cowardice and terror; if they did, they couldn’t 
continue on with such apparent equanimity and thoughtlessness. 
Men’s fears are buried deeply by repression, which gives to every- 
day life its tranquil fa5ade; only occasionally does the desperation 
show through, and only for some people. It is repression, then, that 
great discovery of psychoanalysis, that explains how well men can 
hide their basic motivations even from themselves. But men also 
live in a dimension of carefreeness, trust, hope, and joy which gives 
them a buoyancy beyond that which repression alone could give. 
This, as we saw with Rank, is achieved by the symbolic engineer- 
ing of culture, which everywhere serves men as an antidote to 
terror by giving them a new and durable life beyond that of the 

At about the same time that Rank wrote, Wilhelm Reich also 
based his entire work on the same few basic propositions. In a 
few wonderful pages in The Mass Psychology of Fascism Reich 
lays bare the dynamic of human misery on this planet: it all stems 
from man trying to be other than he is, trying to deny his animal 

The Basic Dynamic of Human Evil g3 

nature. This, says Reich, is the cause of all psychic illness, sadism, 
and war. The guiding principles of the formation of all human 
ideology ‘‘harp on the same monotonous tune: ‘We are not ani- 
mals. . . .’ ” 2 

In his book Reich is out to explain fascism, why men so willingly 
give over their destiny to the state and the great leader. And he 
explains it in the most direct way: it is the politician who promises 
to engineer the world, to raise man above his natural destiny, and 
so men put their whole trust in him. We saw how easily men passed 
from egalitarian into kingship society, and for that very reason: 
because the central power promised to give them unlimited im- 
munities and prosperities. We will see in the next chapter how this 
new arrangement unleashed on mankind regular and massive mis- 
eries that primitive societies encountered only occasionally and 
usually on a small scale. Men tried to avoid the natural plagues 
of existence by giving themselves over to structures which embod- 
ied immunity power, but they only succeeded in laying waste to 
themselves with the new plagues unleashed by their obedience to 
the politicians. Reich coined the apt term “political plague-mongers” 
to describe all politicians. They are the ones who lied to people 
about the real and the possible and launched mankind on impos- 
sible dreams which took impossible tolls of real life. Once you 
base your whole life-striving on a desperate lie and try to implement 
that lie, try to make the world just the opposite of what it is, then 
you instrument your own undoing. The theory of the German 
superman — or any other theory of group or racial superiority — 
“has its origin in man’s effort to disassociate himself from the ani- 
mal.” All you have to do is to say that your group is pure and 
good, eligible for a full life and for some kind of eternal meaning. 
Rut others like Jews or Gypsies are the real animals, are spoiling 
everything for you, contaminating your purity and bringing disease 
and weakness into your vitality. Then you have a mandate to launch 
a political plague, a campaign to make the world pure. It is all in 
Hitler’s Mein Kampf, in those frightening pages about how the 
Jews lie in wait in the dark alleys ready to infect young German 
virgins with syphilis. Nothing more theoretically basic needs to be 
said about the general theory of scapegoating in society — although 
we will look at it in more detail in the next chapter. 



Reich asks why hardly anyone knows the names of the real 
benefactors of mankind, whereas “every child knows the name of 
the generals of the political plague?” The answer is that: 

Natural science is constantly drilling into man’s consciousness that 
fundamentally he is a worm in the universe. The political plague- 
monger is constantly harping upon the fact that man is not an animal, 
but a “zoon politikon,” i.e., a non-animal, an upholder of values, a 
“moral being.” How much mischief has been perpetuated by the 
Platonic philosophy of the state! It is quite clear why man knows the 
politicos better than the natural scientists: He does not want to be 
reminded of the fact that he is fundamentally a sexual animal. He does 
not want to be an animal . 3 

I give Reich’s view of the dynamic of evil without any technical 
adornment because I don’t think that it needs any. But there is 
plenty of adornment in the psychoanalytic literature, for anyone 
who wants to follow out the intricate theoretical workings of the 
psyche. The marvelous thing about psychoanalytic theory is that 
it took simple statements about the human condition, such as man’s 
denial of his own animality, and showed how this denial was 
grounded in the psyche from earliest childhood. Thus psychoana- 
lysts talk about “good” objects and “bad” ones, about “paranoid” 
stages of development, “denials,” “split-off” segments of the psyche 
which includes a “death enclave,” etc. 

In my view no one has summed up these complex psychic work- 
ings better than Jung did in his own poetic scientific way by 
talking about the “shadow” in each human psyche. To speak of the 
shadow is another way of referring to the individual’s sense of 
creature inferiority, the thing he wants most to deny. As Erich 
Neumann so succinctly summed up the Jungian view: 

The shadow is the other side. It is the expression of our own imperfec- 
tion and earthliness, the negative which is incompatible with the absolute 
values [i.e., the horror of passing life and the knowledge of death ]. 4 

As Jung put it, the shadow becomes a dark thing in one’s own 
psyche, “an inferiority which none the less really exists even though 
only dimly suspected .” 5 The person wants to get away from this 

The Basic Dynamic of Human Evil 95 

inferiority, naturally; he wants to “jump over his own shadow.” The 
most direct way of doing this is by “looking for everything dark, 
inferior, and culpable in others ’ ’ 8 

Men are not comfortable with guilt, it chokes them, literally is 
the shadow that falls over their existence. Neumann sums it up 
again very nicely; 

The guilt-feeling is attributable ... to the apperception of the 
shadow. . . . This guilt-feeling based on the existence of the shadow is 
discharged from the system in the same way both by the individual 
and the collective — that is to say, by the phenomenon of the projection 
of the shadow. The shadow, which is in conflict with the acknowledged 
values [i.e., the cultural facade over animality] cannot be accepted as 
a negative part of one’s own psyche and is therefore projected — that is, 
it is transferred to the outside world and experienced as an outside 
object. It is combated, punished, and exterminated as “the alien out 
there” instead of being dealt with as one’s own inner problem. 7 

And so, as Neumann concludes, we have the dynamics for the 
classic and age-old expedient for discharging the negative forces of 
the psyche and the guilt: scapegoating. It is precisely the split-off 
sense of inferiority and animality which is projected onto the scape- 
goat and then destroyed symbolically with him. When all expla- 
nations are compared on the slaughter of the Jews, Gypsies, Poles, 
and so many others by the Nazis, and all the many reasons are 
adduced, there is one reason that goes right into the heart and 
mind of each person, and that is the projection of the shadow. No 
wonder Jung could observe — even more damningly than Rank or 
Reich — that “the principal and indeed the only thing that is wrong 
with the world is man.” 8 

Let us now look at how this dynamic functioned in other histori- 
cal contexts and at some of the other things that feed into it. 


The Nature of Social Evil 

Nor can we deny that we all eat and that each 
of us has grown strong on the bodies of innumer- 
able animals. Here each of us is a king in a field 

of corpses. 
Elias Canetti 1 

We have seen with Rank that the driving force behind evil in 
human affairs stems from man’s paradoxical nature: in the flesh and 
doomed with it, out of the flesh in the world of symbols and trying 
to continue on a heavenly flight. The thing that makes man the 
most devastating animal that ever stuck his neck up into the sky 
is that he wants a stature and a destiny that is impossible for an 
animal; he wants an earth that is not an earth but a heaven, and 
the price for this kind of fantastic ambition is to make the earth 
an even more eager graveyard than it naturally is. 

Our great wistfulness about the world of primitive man is that 
he managed willy-nilly to blunt the terrible potential destructive- 
ness of the drama of heroism and expiation. He didn’t have the 
size, the technological means, or the world view for running amok 
heroically. Heroism was small scale and more easily controlled: 
each person, as a contributor to the generative ritual, could be a 
true cosmic hero who added to the powers of creation. Allied to 
this cosmic heroism was a kind of warfare that has always made 
military men chuckle. Among the Plains Indians it was a kind of 
athletic contest in which one scored points by touching the enemy; 
often it was a kind of disorganized, childish, almost hysterical game 
in which one went into rapture if he brought back a trophy or a 
single enemy for torture. Anyone was liable to be snatched out of 
his hut at daybreak, and on mountainous islands like those of 
Polynesia groups lived in continual fear of those just over the 



The Nature of Social Evil 

ridge or across the lagoon; no one was ever safe from capture and 
sacrificial slaughter. This is hardly the ideal of altruism, and there 
are very few today who have a romantic image of primitive man’s 
peaceful nature; one look at the blunt stone sacrificial slave-killing 
knives of the Northwest Coast Indians is enough to set the record 
straight. Since we do not experience the terror of the occasional 
victims of primitive raids, we can look back nostalgically at the 
small numbers consumed at random, and compare them with those 
who died in one day at Dresden or one flash at Hiroshima. 

Rousseau had already wistfully observed the comparatively low 
toll of life that primitive warfare took , 2 and a whole tradition of 
social analysts including Marx agreed with him. Recently, when 
Lewis Mumford put the crown on a lifetime of brilliant work, he 
reaffirmed this perspective on history . 3 Today we are agreed that 
the picture looks something like this: that once mankind got the 
means for large-scale manipulation of the world, the lust for power 
began to take devastating tolls. This can be seen strikingly at the 
rise of the great civilizations based on divine kingship. These new 
states were structures of domination which absorbed the tribal life 
around them and built up empires. Masses of men were forged 
into obedient tools for really large-scale power operations directed 
by a powerful, exploitative class. It was at this time that slaves were 
firmly compartmentalized into various special skills which they 
plied monotonously; they became automaton objects of the tyran- 
nical rulers. We still see this degradation of tribal peoples today, 
when they hire themselves out for money to work monotonously in 
the mines. Primitive man could be transformed, in one small step, 
from a rich creator of meaning in a society of equals to a mechanical 

Something was accomplished by this new organization of labor 
that primitive man never dreamed of, a tremendous increase in the 
size of human operations: huge walled cities, colossal monuments, 
pyramids, irrigation projects, unprecedented wars of booty and 
plunder. Mumford’s contribution of insight into all this was to call 
it a “megamachine.” The amalgam of kingship with sacred power, 
human sacrifice, and military organization unleashed a nightmare 
megamachine on the world — a nightmare, says Mumford, that be- 
gan at Sumer and that still haunts us today, with our recent history 



of megamachines in Warsaw, Hiroshima, and Vietnam. This is the 
colossus of power gone mad, a colossus based on the dehumaniza- 
tion of man that began, not with Newtonian materialism. Enlighten- 
ment rationalism, or nineteenth-century commercialism, but with 
the first massive exploitation of men in the great divine kingships of 
the ancient world. It was then that man was thrown out of the 
mutualities of tribalism into the cauldron of historic alienation. We 
are still stewing there today because we have not seen that the 
worship of the demonic megamachine has been our fate, and we 
have willingly perpetuated it and even aggravated it until it threat- 
ens to destroy the very world. 

From the point of view of a Marxist level of analysis, this per- 
spective on history attacks social evil at its most obvious point. 
From the very beginning the ravages of large-scale warfare were 
partly a function of the new structure of domination called the 
state; the state was an instrument of oppression that had come into 
being “artificially” through conquest, and with it began mankind’s 
real woes. The new class society of conquerors and slaves right 
away had its own internal frictions; what better way to siphon them 
off than by directing the energies of the masses outward toward an 
“alien” enemy? The state had its own built-in wisdom; it “solved” 
its ponderous internal problems of social justice by making justice a 
matter of triumph over an external enemy. This was the start of the 
large-scale scapegoating that has consumed such mountains of lives 
down through history and continues to do so today, right up to 
Vietnam and Bangladesh: what better way to forge a nation into a 
unity, to take everyone’s eyes off the frightening state of domestic 
affairs, than by focusing on a heroic foreign cause? Mumford very 
pointedly summed up the psychology of this new scapegoating of 
the state: 

Hence the sense of joyful release that so often has accompanied the out- 
break of war . . . popular hatred for the ruling classes was cleverly di- 
verted into a happy occasion to mutilate or kill foreign enemies. 

In short, the oppressor and the oppressed, instead of fighting it out 
within the [ancient] city, directed their aggression toward a common goal 
— an attack on a rival city. Thus the greater the tensions and the harsher 
the daily repressions of civilization, the more useful war became as a 
safety valve .” 4 

The Nature of Social Evil 99 

The Marxist argument discussed above — and it is now an agreed 
one — is that the new structure of the conquest state forced an 
increased butchery of war. Mumford very aptly reasoned that in 
this sense “the invention of the military machine made war ‘neces- 
sary” and even desirable.” With the advent of the megamachines, 
powtr simply got out of hand — or rather, got pressed into the 
service of a few hands — and instead of isolated and random 
sacrifices on behalf of a fearful tribe, ever larger numbers of people 
were; deliberately and methodically drawn into a “dreadful cere- 
mony” on behalf of the few. So that the “ability to wage war and to 
impose collective human sacrifice has remained the identifying 
mark of all sovereign power throughout history.” 5 Little does it 
matter that modem public relations and the appearance of bureau- 
cratic neutrality and efficiency disguise better than ever both the 
sacrifice and the blatant central power of the state; the chief of the 
U.S. “‘Selective Service” (the public relations euphemism) may sit 
around and logically explain his function and the “fairness” of the 
selective process to young high school students, but the bare fact 
is tha t they are obliged by the state’s power to offer their lives for 
its ovvn diversionary ceremony, just as were the ancient Egyptian 
slaves. If there is anything new in all this, it is that the young are 
beginning to understand what is really happening. 

Why has mankind remained locked into such a demonism of 
power all through history? It is not simply because the slaves have 
not Ibad the power to throw off their chains; or, as the early 
Marxists argued, simply because men have forgotten how it was 
“in the beginning” before the state stepped on their necks. Mum- 
ford ;goes beyond this into a psychological level of analysis and 
answers that the demonism remains because it is fed by its own 
irrationality. It is based on a continuation of the anxiety of primitive 
man in the face of his overwhelming world; the megamachine tries 
to generate enough power to overcome basic human helplessness. 
But now we see the costs of the lie: the users of the megamachine 
are led into a megalomanic and paranoid distortion of reality. 
Once you start an arms race, you are consumed by it. This is the 
tragic: fatality of power, that it leads to a fundamental distortion of 
the reality of man’s relationship to nature — and so can undermine 
his own well-being. To protect himself with his megamachines, man 



is willing to sacrifice almost everything else. This is why the mega- 
machine represents the major historical challenge facing western 
man; to see through it and get control of it is the focal problem 
of human survival in our time . 6 

Thus Mumford’s philosophy of the obscenity of history that he 
has pulled together with such a masterful sweep; it is both Marxist 
and psychological, which is what gives it its explanatory power. I 
am lingering on it for two reasons. For one thing it beautifully 
sums up and puts into focus what is already an agreed-on reading 
of the evolution of the destructive power of the state. For another 
thing, I find fault with Mumford’s presentation: he leaves us a bit 
suspended, somehow failing to convince us of the necessary serious- 
ness of the whole process; he seems to gloss over the irrational 
dynamics of history even while talking about them. My point is, I 
think, that his thesis is still too Marxian and unpsychological; and 
this has to be remedied. 

The clue to my disappointment is contained in statements like 
these: “Perhaps the most mysterious of all human institutions, one 
that has been often described but never adequately explained, is 
that of human sacrifice: a magical effort either to expiate guilt or 
promote a more abundant yield of crops.” “Among the cultivated 
Maya, slaves were even sacrificed at an upper-class feast, merely 
to give it a properly genteel elegance.” Or, again, “the primary 
motivation, in the case of human sacrifices, with its many grades 
from finger joints to whole bodies, [is] unexplained, and perhaps, 
like other irrationalities, unexplainable .” 7 Now the first of these 
three statements is too glib, the second superficial, and the third 
erroneous; this is a serious matter for a philosophy of history based 
on the phenomenon of sacrifice, and needs to be remedied; only by 
being completely clear about sacrifice can we get a truly subtle 
picture of historical demonism. 

The Mystery of Sacrifice 

Alex Comfort once observed very aptly that the whole meaning 
of the Freudian revolution in thought was that it revealed to us 


The Nature of Social Evil 

that the irrational had structure and so we could begin to under- 
stand it. Mumford has evidently not fully integrated the psycho- 
analytic contribution into his thought if he claims that irrationalities 
are unexplanable. Furthermore, sacrifice has been adequately ex- 
plained on its many levels of meaning, so fortunately we need not 
go into them all here . 8 Let us just say a few things about sacrifice 
on its most basic level, where it reveals its essential meaning. At 
this level sacrifice is what Mumford said it was: an admission of 
the pitiful finitude and powerlessness of man in the face of the 
mysterium tremendum of the universe, the immensity of what 
transcends him and negates his significance. At this level sacrifice 
affirms reality, bows to it, and attempts to conciliate it. Sacrifice, 
then, is not an “irrational aberration,” but a basic human reflex of 
truth, a correct expiation of natural guilt. One basic motive of 
society, as Brown said, is the symbolic expiation of guilt, which we 
saw as a very complex phenomenon grounded in the truth of the 
human cohdition. Guilt is one of the serious motives of man, not to 
be tossed off as lightly as Mumford does in the above quotes from 
a book in which the word does not even appear in the index. 

If we are to understand the happenings of history, these happen- 
ings have to be seen as resulting from the composite of human 
motives, not simply from the aberrations of power or the elusive- 
ness of a dream. Mumford tells us that the new technology and the 
promise of abundance were the dream that kept mankind mesmer- 
ized; he says too that the oppressiveness of tyranny would not have 
been tolerated but for the positive goods that flowed out of the 
megamachines . 9 But people bear tyranny because of its rewards not 
only to their stomachs but also to their souls. They support tyranny 
by willingly marching off to war not only because that reduces the 
frustration they feel at home toward authority, not only because it 
enables them to project their hatreds on the enemy, but also be- 
cause it expiates their guilt. How else explain the parents that we 
read about during each war who, when told about the tragic death 
of their son, have expressed regret that they had not more to give? 
This is the age-old essence of primitive gift giving; it chills us only 
by the nature of the sacrifice that they make so willingly and by the 
secondhand god to whom it is offered — the nation-state . 10 But it is 
not cynical or callous: in guilt one gives with a melting heart and 



with choking tears because one is guilty, one is transcended by the 
unspeakable majesty and superlativeness of the natural and cultural 
world, against which one feels realistically humbled; by giving 
one draws oneself into that power and merges one’s existence with 

Furthermore — and this takes us deeper into the problem — 
sacrifice and scapegoating are not technical tricks to overcome 
anxiety. Mumford says that the spilling of blood, because it is a 
life substance, may be a magical effort to make crops grow. Of 
course. In one of its forms scapegoating is also magical in origin: 
a ritual is performed over a goat, by which all the tribe’s uncleanli- 
ness ( sin ) is transferred to the animal; it is then driven off or killed, 
leaving the village clean. But we know by now that all these 
technical efforts are inseparably sacred ones, which means that they 
represent not only an arrangement of life but a real spiritual purge 
that qualifies one to triumph over death. I doubt that slaves were 
sacrificed at an upper-class feast of the Maya "merely to give it a 
properly genteel elegance,” as Mumford would have it. It is true 
that primitives have often spilled blood in order simply to gloat 
and strut over an enemy; but I think the motive is more elemental 
than merely to give to feasts a pleasant veneer. Men spill blood 
because it makes their hearts glad and fills out their organisms with 
a sense of vital power; ceremoniously killing captives is a way of 
affirming power over life, and therefore over death. The sacrificer 
may seem nonchalant about it, but this is because men like to ex- 
perience their power effortlessly and smoothly, as though they were 
accustomed by nature to dispose of the strongest force she had to 
offer. (Detroit car makers who sell power and speed — with their 
businessman’s realism about the truths of life — have long known 
this. ) 

And here we have to bring up again one of the central ideas 
discussed in Chapter Two, when we considered the dynamics of 
gift giving. It relates not only to guilt but fundamentally to power. 
The sacrifice is a gift, a gift to the gods which is directed to the 
flow of power, to keeping the life force moving there where it has 
been blocked by sin. With the sacrifice man feeds the gods to give 
them more power so that he may have more. The sacred food has 
the strength of life. The sacrifice of living things adds visible life 


The Nature of Social Evil 

power to the stream of life; the more living things sacrificed, the 
more extravagant release of power, etc. The ancient custom of 
sacrificing wives, slaves, and cavaliers when a king died was not 
only that they should continue to serve the master in the invisible 
world — that was a matter of course. What they achieved by suffer- 
ing and dying together as living sacrifices was to bring extravagant 
new life into being. The sacrifice was a means for establishing a 
communion with the invisible world, making a circle on the flow 
of power, a bridge over which it could pass. So, for example, in 
the simple “building sacrifice” when one took possession of a piece 
of ground: the sacrifice expulsed the demonic spirits in the soil 
and released powers that literally purged the place and made 
building upon it safe . 11 

Now this idea of the flux and flow of power is hard for us to under- 
stand today — or rather would be hard if we had not had some ex- 
perience with it: I mean of course the psychology of the Nazi 
experience, which served as a grim refresher course on the meta- 
physics of mass slaughter. Leo Alexander, in his outstanding paper 
on the SS, points out how much the Nazis were animated by what 
he calls a “heathen concept”: they had a whole philosophy of blood 
and soil which contained the belief that death nourishes life. This 
was “heathen” indeed: we recognize it as the familiar archaic idea 
that the sacrifice of life makes life flow more plentifully. Alexander 
calls the Nazi delight in death a "thanatolatry,” but I would prefer 
to talk about a “death potlatch” by means of which death is thought 
to mystically replenish life. It is unmistakable in the Nazi psy- 
chology. Goering, for example, made a statement early in the war 
that “with every German airman who is killed by the enemy our 
Luftwaffe becomes stronger.” Here are a few more choice examples 
of the metaphysics of the death potlatch: 

Dr. Karl Brandt, plenipotentiary in charge of all medical activities in the 
Reich, when asked about his attitude toward the killing of human beings 
in the course of medical experiments, replied, “Do you think that one 
can obtain any worthwhile fundamental results without a definite toll of 
lives? The same goes for technologic development. You cannot build a 
great bridge, a gigantic building — you cannot establish a speed record 
without deaths!” 


In a similar vein, many SS men took a curious pride in the fact that 
even in peacetime they had many fatalities during “realistic” military 
training. Human bodies were encased in the concrete fortifications and 
bunkers, as though such bodies could give strength to inanimate matter . 12 

If we understand sacrifice in both its dimensions — as guilt and as 
the unblocking of power — we can see how logically and unmysteri- 
ously warfare had to increase in viciousness: men staged whatever 
size death potlatch they were technically capable of, from Genghis 
Khan to Auschwitz. The general opinion is that at the most primi- 
tive level of religious organization — that of shamanism — sacrifice 
of war captives was a rarity; captives could be taken in small 
number for a variety of reasons, but usually simple sadistic ones 
like gloating over torture or personal ones like avenging the loss 
of members of one’s own family . 13 And this is in accord with what 
we saw in Chapter Two; in simpler societies expiation for guilt 
was easier to achieve and required no massive expenditure of life. 
But as societies increased in scale and complexity, incorporating 
high gods, a priesthood, and a king, the motive for sacrifice became 
frankly one of pleasing the gods and building power, and then 
mountains of war captives began to be sacrified. When much booty 
and many slaves were brought back from raiding expeditions, it 
may have seemed that the purpose was secular and economic, but 
it was basically religious: it was a matter of affirming one’s power 
over life and death; and the lure of economic gain was always out- 
weighed by the magical power of war, no matter how this was 
disguised. The kings of Dahomey undertook their war expeditions 
to bring back slaves to sell to Europeans. They held an “annual 
custom” at which hundreds of prisoners’ heads were lopped off and 
placed in heaps — a celebration of victory which the king offered to 
the people. To the amazement of the European slave traders, the 
king would not sell these victims even when there was a dearth of 
slaves for sale; in spite of his avarice the sacrificial slaughter had 
to take place. The reason, of course, was that the ceremony was 
not economic, but sacred. The affirmation of the king’s power was 
much more important than mere possession: power is the ability to 
dispense life and death for the whole tribe and in relation to all 
of nature . 14 

The Nature of Social Evil 105 

Allied to this dynamic is another one which we have trouble 
understanding today: the one who makes the sacrifice dispenses not 
only power but fate; if you kill your enemy, your life is affirmed 
because it proves that the gods favor you. The whole philosophy 
is summed up in the lines from a typical “western” movie, when the 
Indians come upon a cavalry officer and the leader says, “Let’s see 
if his gods protect him — shoot!” The point we moderns miss is that 
this is not said out of cocky pride or cynicism, as if the Indian knew 
in advance that the enemy would fall: ancient man really wanted 
to see. As Huizinga pointed out, war was a test of the will of 
the gods, to see if they favored you; it forced a revelation of destiny 
and so it was a holy cause and a sacred duty, a kind of divination. 15 
Whatever the outcome was, it was a decision of holy validity — the 
highest kind of judgment man can get — and it was in his hands to 
be able to force it: all he had to do was to stage a war. It was thus 
natural for the divine kings, who had total power over their people, 
to want to test their own fate before the highest court. It is as 
though they said to the gods, “Now show me if I’m really as 
special as I believe; prove to me that I am your favored son.” With 
the massive slave armies spread across the plain, the flotilla of ships 
choking the shore, the arms glistening in the sun, and the din rising 
to the heavens, the divine king must have felt that a sacrifice hunt 
of such magnitude could not fail, that he could almost defiantly 
force the favor of the gods in view of the blood that would flow 
for them. 

This was the gift complex of the primitive potlatch magnified 
to its highest intensity: the dialogue with the gods was there, and 
the sacrificial gift was prominent; the accent was on massive visible 
power; the ambition was to mount the biggest production possible. 
And so it made no difference how many were killed, or from what 
side they came. War was a sacred duty and a holy cause, but it 
was the king’s cause: its primary meaning was to prove his power 
to survive. And so the more dead, the better. As Canetti so well 
put it, in a book full of remarkable insight: 

Fortunate and favored, the survivor stands in the midst of the fallen. 
For him there is one tremendous fact; while countless others have died, 
many of them his comrades, he is still alive. The dead lie helpless; he 


stands upright amongst them, and it is as though the battle had been 
fought in order for him to survive it. . . . It is a feeling of being chosen 
from amongst the many who manifestly shared the same fate. . . . The 
man who achieves this often is a hero. He is stronger. There is more 
life in him. He is the favored of the Gods. 16 * 

As Winston Churchill discovered in one of his first military experi- 
ences: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without 
result.” And as Hitler concluded — after miraculously surviving the 
bomb blast that was meant to take his life but instead took several 
others, “Providence has kept me alive to complete my great work.” 

Canetti goes on to point out, and I believe truly, that the larger 
and more frequent the heaps of dead which attest to one’s special 
favor, the more one needs this confirmation. It becomes a kind of 
addiction to proving an ever-growing sense of invulnerability, to 
tasting the continually repeated pleasure of survival. If the king is 
victorious, then all the dead on the battlefield belong to him be- 
cause they prove his specialness . 17 No wonder the divine kings 
repeatedly staged their compulsive campaigns and inscribed the 
mountainous toll of their butchery for all time. We now understand 
that their pride was holy; they had offered the gods an immense 
sacrifice and a direct challenge, and the gods had confirmed that 
their destiny was indeed divinely favored, since the victories went 
to them. In recent times Lyndon B. Johnson threw out the same 
challenge to God from the White House — to show His favor by 
giving victory. And he still used the language of the hunt: the dis- 
gusting and useless slaughter of the war in Vietnam was referred 
to by the President as a challenge to “bring the coon-skin home 
and hang it on the wall.” 

This homely hunting language makes it very clear to us that 
animal power is the driving motive behind even the most abstract 

•Canetti is a literary man, and I am continually amazed by how much 
more penetrating have been the analyses by nonscientists into scientific matters 
than those by most of the scientists themselves. Sensitive insight and great 
scope are evidently not usually a matter of scientific training or disposition. 
Carlo Levi, also a literary man, belongs with Canetti in the deluge of modern 
understanding of the dynamics of large-scale butchery. See his beautiful little 
book Of Fear and Freedom (New York: Farrar Straus, 1950), so eloquent and 
fine, and packed with all the correct ideas on sacrifice, slavery in the ancient 
world, the tyranny of the state, blood sacrifice in modem warfare, etc. 


The Nature of Social Evil 

viciousness of men. And how could it be otherwise? Man is an 
animal organism who must naturally aggress on his world in order 
to incorporate the energy-power he needs from it. On the most 
elemental level this power resides in food, which is why primitives 
have always acknowledged food power as the basic one in the 
sacrificial meal. From the beginning, man, as a meat-eating hunter, 
incorporated the power of other animals. But he himself was a 
peculiarly weak animal, and so he had to develop a special sensi- 
tivity to sources of power, and a wide latitude of sources of power 
for his own incorporation. This is one way to understand the greater 
aggressiveness of man than of other animals: he was the only 
animal conscious of death, and decay, and so he engaged in a 
heightened search for powers of self-perpetuation. Any study of 
the early evolution of warfare and the natural viciousness of it has 
to take this into account. Very early in human evolution men 
aggressed in order to incorporate two kinds of power, physical and 
symbolic. This meant that trophy taking in itself was a principal 
motive for war raiding; the trophy was a personal power acquisi- 
tion. Men took parts of the animals they killed in the hunt as a 
testimonial to their bravery and skill — buffalo horns, grizzly bear 
claws, jaguar teeth. In war they took back proof that they had 
killed an enemy, in the form of his scalp or even his whole head 
or whole body skin . 18 These could be worn as badges of bravery 
which gave prestige and social honor and inspired fear and respect. 
But more than that, as we saw in Chapter Two, the piece of the 
terrible and brave animal and the scalp of the feared enemy often 
contained power in themselves: they were magical amulets, “power- 
ful medicine,” which contained the spiritual powers of the object 
they belonged to. And so trophies were a major source of protective 
power: they shielded one from harm, and one could also use them 
to conjure up evil spirits and exorcise them. In addition to this the 
trophy was the visible proof of survivorship in the contest and thus 
a demonstration of the favor of the gods. What greater badge of 
distinction than that? No wonder trophy hunting was a driving 
obsession among primitives: it gave to men what they needed most 
— extra power over life and death. We see this most directly, of 
course, in the actual incorporation of parts of the enemy; in can- 
nibalism after victory the symbolic animal makes closure on both 


ends of his problematic dualism — he gets physical and spiritual 
energy. An Associated Press dispatch from the “Cambodian Front 
Lines” quotes a Sgt, Danh Hun on what he did to his North 
Vietnamese foes: 

I try to cut them open while they’re still dying or soon after they are 
dead. That way the livers give me the strength of my enemy. . . . [One 
day] when they attacked we got about 80 of them and everyone ate 
liver. 18 * 

The Logic of Scapegoating 

From all this we have to agree with an observation by the 
existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” From the 
beginning men have served the appetites of one another in the most 
varying ways, but these were always reducible to a single theme: 
the need for fuel for one’s own aggrandizement and immunity. Men 
use one another to assure their personal victory over death. Nothing 
could be further from the “irrationality” that Mumford complained 
about. In one of the most logical formulas on the human condition 
Rank observed, “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, 
the sacrifice, of the other; through the death of the other, one buys 
oneself free from the penalty of dying, of being killed.” 20 No won- 
der men are addicted to war. Rank’s insight is foreshadowed in 

• There is a naturalness about trophy taking that may stem partly from man’s 
primate nature. I am thinking of the interest that primates show for striking 
details and objects in their environment. Children show real fascination over 
gadgets and trinkets, and are constantly engaged in hoarding and swapping 
quantities of marbles, picture cards, etc. I remember how the agate stones that 
we called “moonies” seemed to possess real magical powers and how we cov- 
eted them. More than that, there may be some natural connection between 
trophy taking and being a hunter, oriented to a triumph over the prey. It 
gives a real feeling of jx>wer to bring back a part of the prey; it is a way of 
physically affirming ones victory. The victor does not leave the field of triumph 
empty-handed as he came, but actually increases his own organism as a result 
of the encounter, by adding to it some of the volume of the victim. A recent 
film study of baboons in their natural habitat showed them beating a dummy 
lion until its head broke off, upon which the leader seized the head and took 
it away with him. 

The Nature of Social Evil 109 

the basic theory of psychoanalysis and was given by Freud him- 
self. 21 Freud saw that when it comes to enemies and strangers, the 
ego can consign them to the limbo of death without even a second 
thought. Modern man lives in illusion, said Freud, because he 
denies or suppresses his wish for the other’s death and for his own 
immortality; and it is precisely because of this illusion that mankind 
cannot get control over social evils like war. This is what makes war 
irrational: each person has the same hidden problem, and as antag- 
onists obsessively work their cross purposes, the result is truly 
demonic; the film The Bridge on the River Kwai summed this up 
beautifully. Not only enemies but even friends and loved ones are 
fair fuel for our own perpetuation, said Freud: “In our unconscious 
we daily and hourly deport all who stand in our way, all who have 
offended or injured us.” 22 This is the price of our natural animal 
narcissism; very few of us, if pressured, would be unwilling to 
sacrifice someone else in our place. The exception to this is of 
course the hero. We admire him precisely because he is willing to 
give his life for others instead of taking theirs for his. Heroism is 
an unusual reversal of routine values, and it is another thing that 
makes war so uplifting, as mankind has long known: war is a ritual 
for the emergence of heroes, and so for the transmutation of 
common, selfish values. In war men live their own ennoblement. 
But what we are reluctant to admit is that the admiration of the 
hero is a vicarious catharsis of our own fears, fears that are deeply 
hidden; and this is what plunges us into uncritical hero worship: 
what the hero does seems so superlative to us. Thus from another 
point of view we see how right Freud was on enslavement by our 
illusions based on our repressions. 

The logic of scapegoating, then, is based on animal narcissism and 
hidden fear. If luck, as Aristotle said, is when the arrow hits the 
fellow next to you, then scapegoating is pushing the fellow into 
its path — with special alacrity if he is a stranger to you. A particu- 
larly pungent phrasing of the logic of scapegoating one’s own death 
has been given by Alan Harrington: it is as though the sacrificer 
were to say to God after appraising how nature feeds voraciously 
on life, “If this is what you want, here, take it!” 23 — but leave me 

If anyone still thinks that this is merely clever phrasing in the 



minds of alienated intellectuals trying to make private sense out of 
the evil of their world, let him consult the daily papers. Almost 
every year there is a recorded sacrifice of human life in remote 
areas of Chile to appease the earthquake gods. There have been 
fifteen recent officially reported cases of human sacrifice in India — 
one being that of a four-year-old boy sacrificed to appease a Hindu 
goddess, and another involving a west Indian immigrant couple 
in England who sacrificed their 16-year-old son, following prayer 
and meditation, to ward off the death of the mother. Freud was 
right; in the narcissism of earthly bodies, where each is imprisoned 
fatally in his own finite integument, everyone is alien to oneself 
and subject to the status of scapegoat for one’s own life.® 

The logic of killing others in order to affirm our own life unlocks 
much that puzzles us in history, much that with our modern minds 
we seem unable to comprehend, such as the Roman arena games. 
If the killing of a captive affirms the power of. your life, how much 
does the actual massive staging of life-and-death struggles affirm a 
whole society? The continual grinding sacrifice of animal and 
human life in the arenas was all of a piece with the repressions of a 
society that was dedicated to war and that lived in the teeth of 
death. It was a perfect pastime to work off anxieties and show the 
ultimate personal control of death: the thumbs up or thumbs down 
on the gladiators. The more death you saw unfold before your eyes 
and the more you thrust your thumbs downward, the more you 
bought off your own life. And why was the crucifixion such a 
favorite form of execution? Because, I think, it was actually a con- 
trolled display of dying; the small seat on the cross held the body 
up so that dying would be prolonged. The longer people looked at 
the death of someone else, the more pleasure they could have in 
sensing the security and the good fortune of their own survival. 24 
The whole meaning of a victory celebration, as Canetti argued, is 
that we experience the power of our lives and the visible decrease 

• Canetti speculates beautifully on how sacrifice springs from crowd fear, the 
same kind of fear a herd of gazelles experiences when the cheetah is chasing 
it: the moment of catharsis for the herd is when the fear abates because the 
cheetah has singled out one for a kill. The sacrifice of one for the many is 
thus a kind of naturalsppGOSGmerailf hostile powers. See Elias Canetti, Crowds 
and Power (London: Gollancz, 1962), p. 309. 


The Nature of Social Evil 

of the enemy: it is a sort of staging of the whole meaning of a war, 
the demonstration of the essence of it — which is why the public 
display, humiliation, and execution of prisoners is so important. 
“They are weak and die: we are strong and live.” The Roman 
arena games were, in this sense, a continued staging of victory 
even in the absence of a war; each civilian experienced the same 
powers that he otherwise had to earn in war. 25 If we are repulsed 
by the bloodthirstiness of those games, it is because we choose to 
banish from our consciousness what true excitement is. For man, 
maximum excitement is the confrontation of death and the skillful 
defiance of it by watching others fed to it as he survives transfixed 
with rapture. Today only those such as racing-car drivers and sports 
parachutists can stage these kinds of dramas in civilian life. 

It seems that the Nazis really began to dedicate themselves to 
their large-scale sacrifices of life after 1941 when they were begin- 
ning to lose and suspected at some dim level of awareness that they 
might. They hastened the infamous "final solution” of the Jews 
toward the closing days of their power, and executed their own 
political prisoners — like Dietrich Bonhoeffer — literally moments 
before the end. Retreating Germans in Russia and Italy were 
especially apt to kill with no apparent motive, just to leave a heap 
of bodies. It is obvious they were offering last-minute hostages to 
death, stubbornly affirming in a blind, organismic way, “I will not 
die, you will — see?” It seems that they' wanted some kind of victory 
over evil, and when it couldn’t be the Russians, then it would be the 
Jews and even other Germans; any substitute scapegoat would 
have to do. In the recent Bengali revolt the Western Pakistanis 
often killed anyone they saw, and when they didn’t see anyone 
they would throw grenades into houses; they piled up a toll of over 
3 million despised Bengalis. It is obvious that man kills to cleanse 
the earth of tainted ones, and that is what victory means and how 
it commemorates his life and power: man is bloodthirsty to ward 
off the flow of his own blood. And it seems further, out of the war 
experiences of recent times, when man sees that he is trapped and 
excluded from longer earthly duration, he says, “If I can’t have it, 
then neither can you.” 

Other things that we have found hard to understand have been 
hatreds and feuds between tribes and families, and continual 



butchery practiced for what seemed petty, prideful motives of per- 
sonal honor and revenge. But the idea of sacrifice as self- preserva- 
tion explains these very directly. As Rank saw, the characteristic of 
primitives and of family groups was that they represented a sort of 
soul pool of immortality-substance. If you depleted this pool by one 
member, you yourself became more mortal. In Rank’s inspired 

It is my opinion that this ideology offers a basis for understanding both 
the bitter hatreds and feuds between North American Indian tribes, and 
the feuds or vendettas currently practiced in many European countries. 
Whether it was the theft of women under exogamy, or the murder of 
male members of the tribe, it was always a matter of avenging serious 
offenses upon the spiritual economy of the community which, being 
robbed of one of its symbols of spiritual revenue, sought to cancel or at- 
least avenge the shortages created in the immortality account . 20 

This kind of action is natural to primitives especially, who believe 
in the balance of nature and are careful not to overly deplete the 
store of life-stuff. Revenge equals the freeing of life-stuff into the 
common reservoir “from which it can then be reassigned,” as 
Jordan Scher very nicely put it. In fact, he extends the primitive 
notion of life-stuff right up to modern society and sees it as a 
motive for genocidal war and even the everyday secular process of 
justice: the guilty one is punished in order to return his life-stuff to 
the community . 27 

I don’t know how much of a burden of explanation we would 
want to put on the pool of life-stuff in modern, secular society. For 
one thing, we no longer believe in the balance of nature; for an- 
other, we don’t often grant to others the same life quality that we 
have. But whether or not we believe in a steady pool of life-stuff, 
numbers are important to man: if we “buy off” our own death with 
that of others, we want to buy it off at a good price. In wartime, 
as Zilboorg put it: 

We mourn our dead without undue depression because we are able to 
celebrate an equal if not greater number of deaths in the ranks of the 
enemy . 28 

The Nature of Social Evil 113 

This explains the obsessive nature of “body counting” of the enemy 
as well as the universal tendency to exaggerate his losses and 
minimize those of one’s own side. People can only lie so blatantly 
and eagerly when their own lives are at stake; these exaggerations 
always seem silly to outsiders to the conflict precisely because their 
lives are not involved. Rank sees, correctly we now have to believe, 
that all warfare and revolutionary struggle are simply a develop- 
ment of feuding and vendettas, where the basic thing at stake is a 
dramatization of the immortality account. We couldn’t understand 
the obsessive development of nationalism in our time — the fantastic 
bitterness between nations, the unquestioned loyalty to one’s own, 
the consuming wars fought in the name of the fatherland or the 
motherland — unless we saw it in this light. “Our nation” and its 
“allies” represent those who qualify for eternal survival; we are 
the “chosen people.” From the time when the Athenians extermi- 
nated the Melians because they would not ally with them in war 
to the modern extermination of the Vietnamese, the dynamic has 
been the same: all those who join together under one banner are 
alike and so qualify for the privilege of immortality; all those who 
are different and outside that banner are excluded from the bless- 
ings of eternity. 29 The vicious sadism of war is not only a testing of 
God’s favor to our side, it is also a proof that the enemy is mortal: 
“Look how we kill him.” As Alan Harrington so well put it, in a 
remarkable book which contains the most brilliantly pungent phras- 
ings of (Rankian) insights that one is ever likely to see: 

Cruelty can arise from the aesthetic outrage we sometimes feel in the 
presence of strange individuals who seem to be making out all right. . . . 
Have they found some secret passage to eternal life? It can’t be. If those 
weird individuals with beards and funny hats are acceptable, then what 
about my claim to superiority? Can someone like that be my equal in 
God’s eyes? Does he, that one, dare hope to live forever too — and per- 
haps crowd me out? I don’t like it. All I know is, if he’s right I’m wrong. 
So different and funny-looking. I think he’s trying to fool the gods with 
his sly ways. Let’s show him up. He’s not very strong. For a start, see 
what he’ll do when I poke him 30 

Sadism naturally absorbs the fear of death, as Zilboorg points out, 
because by actively manipulating and hating we keep our organism 



absorbed in the outside world; this keeps self-reflection and the 
fear of death in a state of low tension. We feel we are masters over 
life and death when we hold the fate of others in our hands. As 
long as we can continue shooting, we think more of killing than of 
being killed. Or, as a wise gangster once put it in a movie, “When 
killers stop killing they get killed.” 

This is already the essence of a theory of sadism. But more than 
that it is the clinical proof of the natural “wisdom” of tyrannical 
leaders from the time of the divine kingships up to the present day. 
In times of peace, without an external enemy, the fear that feeds 
war tends to find its outlet within the society, in the hatred between 
classes and races, in the everyday violence of crime, of automobile 
accidents, and even the self-violence of suicide . 31 War sucks much 
of this up into one fulcrum and shoots it outward to make an un- 
known enemy pay for our internal sins. It is as Mumford said, but — 
one final time — how rational this “irrationality.” 

The Science of Man after Hitler 

It should already be obvious that with observations like these on 
sacrifice and scapegoating we are taking in immense areas in human 
relations; when we think in these terms, we already feel quickened 
in our thoughts and our pulse — we know we are onto something big. 
I have lingered on guilt, sacrifice, heroism, and immortality because 
they are the key concepts for the science of man in society that is 
emerging in our time. And the key works for these concepts have 
already been written, which is good news in the life of any aspiring 
science; the only rub is that the scientific community itself has not 
realized this good news, and so we have been painfully slow in 
forging an agreed science of man. The application of the ideas of 
guilt and sacrifice to modem sociology has been done largely by a 
few men — notably Kenneth Burke and Hugh Dalziel Duncan. Let 
us dwell on this critical chapter in the evolution of an authentic 
science of man. 

Burke recognized that guilt and expiation were fundamental 
categories of sociological explanation, and he proposed a simple 

The Nature of Social Evil 115 

formula: guilt must be canceled in society, and it is absolved by 
“victfmage.” So universal and regular is the dynamic that Burke 
wondered “whether human society could possibly cohere without 
symbolic victims which the individual members of the group share 
in common.” He saw ' f the civic enactment of redemption through 
the sacrificial victim” as the center of man’s social motivation. 32 

Burke was led to the central idea of victimage and redemption 
through Greek tragedy and Christianity; he saw that this funda- 
mentally religious notion is a basic characteristic of any social 
order.. Again we are brought back to our initial point that all culture 
is in essence sacred — supernatural, as Bank put it. The miraculous- 
ness of creation is after all magnified in social life; it is contained 
in persons and given color, form, drama. The natural mystery of 
birth, growth, consciousness, and death is taken over by society; and 
as Duncan so well says, this interweaving of social form and natural 
terror becomes an inextricable mystification; the individual can only 
gape :in awe and guilt. 33 This religious guilt, then, is also a charac- 
teristic of so-called secular societies; and anyone who would lead 
a society must provide for some form of sacred absolution, regard- 
less c>f the particular historical disguise that this absolution may 
wear.. Otherwise society is not possible. In Burke’s generation it was 
abovn all Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini who understood this and 
acted, on it. 

If t:!here is one thing that the tragic wars of our time have taught 
us, it iis that the enemy has a ritual role to play, by means of which 
evil its redeemed. All “wars are conducted as ‘holy’ wars” 34 in a 
doub’ile sense then — as a revelation of fate, a testing of divine favor, 
and as a means of purging evil from the world at the same time. 
This explains why we are dedicated to war precisely in its most 
horrilFying aspects: it is a passion of human purgation. Nietzsche 
observed that “whoever is dissatisfied with himself is always ready 
to revenge himself therefore; we others will be his victims. . . . 35 
But tllie irony is that men are always dissatisfied and guilty in small 
and large ways, and this is what drives them to a search for purity 
where all dissatisfaction can come to a head and be wiped away. 
Men try to qualify for etemalization by being clean and by cleans- 
ing title world around them of the evil, the dirty; in this way they 
show that they are on the side of purity, even if they themselves 


are impure. The striving for perfection reflects man’s effort to get 
some human grip on his eligibility for immortality. And he can 
only know if he is good if the authorities tell him so; this is why 
it is so vital for him emotionally to know whether he is liked or 
disliked, why he will do anything the group wants in order to 
meet its standards of “good”: his eternal life depends on it. 3 ' Good 
and bad relate to strength and weakness, to self-perpetuation, to 
indefinite duration. And so we can understand that all ideology, as 
Rank said, is about one’s qualification for eternity; and so are all 
disputes about who really is dirty. The target of one’s righteous 
hatred is always called “dirt”; in our day the short-hairs call the 
long-hairs “filthy” and are called in turn “pigs.” Since everyone 
feels dissatisfied with himself (dirty), victimage is a universal hu- 
man need. And the highest heroism is the stamping out of those 
who are tainted. The logic is terrifying. The psychoanalytic group- 
ing of guilt, anality, and sadism is translatable in this way to the 
highest levels of human striving and to the age-old problem of good 
and evil. 

From which we have to conclude that men have been the mid- 
wives of horror on this planet because this horror alone gave them 
peace of mind, made them “right” with the world. No wonder 
Nietzsche would talk about “the disease called man .” 37 It seems 
perverse when we put it so blatantly, yet here is an animal who 
needs the spectacle of death in order to open himself to love. As 
Duncan put it: 

. . . as we wound and kill our enemy in the field and slaughter his 
women and children in their homes, our love for each other deepens. We 
become comrades in arms; our hatred of each other is being purged in 
the sufferings of our enemy . 38 

And even more relentlessly: 

We need to socialize in hate and death, as well as in joy and love. We 
do not know how to have friends without, at the same time, creating 
victims whom we must wound, torture, and kill. Our love rests on hate . 38 

If we talk again and shockingly about human baseness, it is 
not out of cynicism; it is only to better get some kind of factual 


The Nature of Social Evil 

purchase on our fate. We follow Freud in the belief that it is only 
illusions that we have to fear; and we follow Hardy — in our epi- 
graph to this book — in holding that we have to take a full look at 
the worst in order to begin to get rid of illusions. Realism, even 
brutal, is not cynicism. As Duncan so passionately concluded his 
Nietzschean and Dostoevskian exposition of the terrifying dynamics 
of purity and love, “. . . we cannot become humane until we under- 
stand our need to visit suffering and death on others. . . . The 
sociology of our time must begin in [such an] anguished aware- 
ness. . . ,” 40 It has already begun in the work of Burke, Duncan, 
Mumford, and Lifton; but its theoretical formulations were already 
plentifully contained in the neglected work of Rank. From the point 
of view of such a sociology, the great scientific problems of our 
time have been the successful and grand social cohesions, especially 
of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Burke and Duncan have amply de- 
scribed the religious horror drama of Germany under Hitler, where 
the dirty and evil Jews were purged from the world of Aryan 
purity by the Nazi priesthood . 41 Buchenwald and Auschwitz were 
the result of one of the most massive mystifications of history, a 
religious use of man’s fundamental motives and fears. Today we 
still gape in unbelief that such a holocaust was possible in our 
“civilized” world, refusing to see how true it was to man’s nature 
and to his ambitions to transcend that nature. Hitler’s rise to power 
was based on his understanding of what people wanted and needed 
most of all, and so he promised them, above everything else, heroic 
victory over evil; and he gave them the living possibility of ridding 
themselves temporarily of their real guilt. As many die-hard right- 
ists in the U.S. today realize better than anyone else, the tragedy 
of Vietnam is that it has loaded the Americans with a huge burden 
of unresolvable guilt and it has not been a victory. They rightly 
say that leaders who saddle a nation with such a bafflement of its 
true aspirations have no right to lead. The nation represents victory 
and immortality or it has no mandate to exist. It must give tangible, 
straightforward victories or its credit is dissipated in the hearts of 
all its citizens. The rightists rally behind the convicted war criminal 
Lieut. William Calley because they cannot stand the burden of 
guilt of a nonvictorious war, so they simply deny it by insisting 
that he is a straightforward hero. There is no immortality without 


guiltless victory. On these matters rightists have always been a 
candid barometer of basic human urges. 

It took Stalin’s purge trials to show us that the highest humanistic 
ideals of socialist revolutionaries also have to be played out in a 
religious drama of victimage and redemption — if one is to have a 
pure and cohesive socialist society at all . 42 The Russians exiled 
religious expiation but could not exile their own human nature, and 
so they had to conjure up a secular caricature of religious expia- 
tion. And they are still doing it: the magician-priests who give 
absolution to the clean communist masses now wear the white coats 
of hospital psychiatrists who transform dirty dissident victims with 
the latest techniques of “secular” science. It is grotesque, but Burke 
had warned us to always watch for the “secular equivalents” of the 
theological formula of victimage and redemption; the scapegoat is 
not a “ ‘necessary illusion’ of savages, children, and the masses,” 4 ® 
but now an achievement of the “most advanced” socialist society. 

Most recently Robert Jay Lifton has extended the Rankian frame- 
work of analysis into a brilliant dissection of that other great social- 
ist drama of redemption of our time — the one staged by Mao, the 
biggest drama of all to date, yet one that uses the same time- 
honored dynamics. Lifton’s analysis reveals Maoism as still another 
version of age-old historical themes dating from the time of the 
emergence of the very first states. Here is a reenactment of the 
drama of cosmic government, with Mao as the god-king who chan- 
nels sacred power to those on the side of purity and right. Those 
who are not on that side fit into the now familiar formula of 
“victimization . . . the need to reassert one’s own immortality, 
or that of one’s group, by contrasting it with its absolute absence 
[of immortality] in one’s death-tainted victim .” 44 Mao emerges as a 
hero-savior who has the particular skill of defying death and giving 
expiation to his followers — “a man closely attuned to the pulse of 
immortality,” as Lifton put it . 45 The vehicle for immortality is, of 
course, the revolution itself, the noble mission of the Chinese 
masses, the mission into which one merges his entire identity and 
from which he receives his apotheosis. In this cosmology it is the 
people themselves who carry the “immortal revolutionary sub- 
stance”; God, then, “is none other than the masses of the Chinese 
people.” It is as though China herself and her staggering population 

The Nature of Social Evil 119 

had the life power to be immune to the normal limitations of 
human existence. 46 From Lif ton’s analysis it seems that modern 
China is reliving the idea of the primitive group soul which is a 
sacred fount of regeneration on which the whole community can 
draw so long as it remains pure. If one imagines these analogies 
far-fetched, he should go to Lifton himself and see how firmly they 
rest on a now well-founded tradition of social and psychological 
analysis. 47 

The Two Sides of Heroic Self -Expansion 

In all this we see the continuity of history; each heroic apotheosis 
is a variation on basic themes because man is still man. Civilization, 
the rise of the state, kingship, the universal religions — all are fed 
by the same psychological dynamic: guilt and the need for re- 
demption. If it is no longer the clan that represents the collective 
immortality pool, then it is the state, the nation, the revolutionary 
cell, the corporation, the scientific society, one’s own race. Man 
still gropes for transcendence, but now this is not necessarily na- 
ture and God, but the SS or the CIA; the only thing that remains 
constant is that the individual still gives himself with the same 
humble trembling as the primitive to his totemic ancestor. The stake 
is identical — immortality power — and the unit of motivation is still 
the single individual and his fears and hopes. To see graphically 
how constant these things have remained, we have only to tune in 
on the early-morning sign-offs on American television. The message 
is striking in its primitiveness: several minutes of the alternation of 
a picture of the flag with that of soldiers in landing barges, combat 
aircraft streaking across the sky, soldiers marching, the green fields 
and hills of home, a glistening white military cemetary, again the 
flag unfurled in the wind, the timeless Lincoln Memorial, and again 
the firm and determined faces of soldiers marching. The unspoken 
text is relentless in its assurance of vital power to each person, and 
a firm place in an immortality system. How the heart must quicken 
at what is suggested by these images, how the throat must choke 
up with gratitude. 



Of course militarism and the flag hardly begin to cover the vari- 
ous types of things that the person can expand into; human in- 
genuity is not so limited, which explains why rich and imaginative 
people often make such poor patriots. Samuel Johnson saw this 
clearly when he said that patriotism was the last refuge for scoun- 
drels. In our time the young are turning to forms of what Lifton 
called “experiential transcendence” — the intense experience of a 
feeling state which, for a little while anyway, eliminates the prob- 
lem of time and death . 48 This is a variation on the historical mode 
of mysticism, only in our time people can imbibe in it en masse, 
helped by the modern technology of color and sound. Alan Har- 
rington caught the mood of it beautifully: 

By embracing the Primordial Oneness I escape death before it can hit 
me. How can that shadowy menace keep an appointment in Samara 
with a man whose consciousness has already been dissolved? ... In a 
discotheque, the careworn self is smashed by echoing guitars and elec- 
tronic shrieking, and its fragments are scattered even more finely by 
showering and splitting light effects. . . . The narcotic drift will take you 
to spaces beyond time and death, as will an orgy or a church organ . 49 

This explains the massive attendance at rock music festivals which 
the older generation has such trouble understanding. The festivals 
represent a joyful triumph over the flat emptiness of modern life, 
the mechanical succession of news events which carry everyone on 
willy-nilly, the ticking away of life in an absurd anarchy. The 
festival is the attempt by the young to reawaken a sense of the 
awesome and the miraculous as they throb in full communion to 
the beating of the music. As one rock music authority so well put 
it, what the modern young are seeking through this is a way to 
adequately express wonder, an expression that modem, secular, 
mechanistic society has denied them. This kind of communion in joy 
and in intensive experience is, we have to conclude, modem youth’s 
heroic victory over human limitation. Yet it, too, is hardly a mod- 
em invention despite the new technics which mediates it. It is a 
replay of the basic Dionysian expansiveness, the submergence and 
loss of identity in the transcending power of the pulsating “now” 
and the frenzied group of like-minded believers. 


The Nature of Social Evil 

My point is that heroic expansiveness, joy, and wonder have an 
underside — finitude, guilt, and death — and we have to watch for its 
expression too. After you have melted your identity into transcending, 
pulsating power, what do you do to establish some kind of balance? 
What kind of forceful, instrumental attitude do you summon up to 
remarshal yourself and your grip on experience? One cannot live 
in the trembling smallness of awe, else he will melt away. Where 
is the object on which to focus one’s new self-assertion — an object 
that is for most people a victim? This is what we have to be con- 
stantly on guard for. The Dionysian festival reflected man’s ex- 
perience in the round, and so for the masochistic loss of self there 
was the corresponding sadistic affirmation of self: the Dionysian 
celebrators tore apart with their bare hands and ate raw a scape- 
goat or a bull to climax the ceremony. Every heroic victory is two- 
sided: it aims toward merger with an absolute “beyond” in a burst 
of life affirmation, but it carries within it the rotten core of death 
denial in a physical body here on earth. If culture is a lie about 
the possibilities of victory over death, then that lie must somehow 
take its toll of life, no matter how colorful and expansive the 
celebration of joyful victory may seem. The massive meetings of 
the Nazi youth or those of Stalin in Red Square and Mao in Peking 
literally take our breath away and give us a sense of wonder. But 
the proof that these celebrations have an underside is in Auschwitz 
and Siberia: these are the places where the goats are torn apart, 
where the pathetic cowardliness of what it is all about on its 
underside is revealed. We might say that modem heroism is some- 
what out of joint compared with Dionysianism, where both aspects 
of transcendence took place on the spot; modern scapegoating has 
its consummation in bureaucratic forms, gas ovens, slow rotting in 
prison camps. But it still is all about the real, lived terror of the 
individual German, Russian, and Chinese over his own life, how- 
ever coldly and matter-of-factly it may be staged, whatever the 
clean and disinterested scientific methods used. Hannah Arendt in 
her brilliant and controversial analysis of Adolf Eichmann showed 
that he was a simple bureaucratic trimmer who followed orders 
because he wanted to be liked; but this can only be the surface of 
the story, we now see. Rubber-stampers sign orders for butchery 
in order to be liked; but to be liked means to be admitted to the 



group that is elected for immortality. The ease and remoteness of 
modem killing by bespectacled, colorless men seem to make it a 
disinterested bureaucratic matter, but evil is not banal as Arendt 
claimed: evil rests on the passionate person motive to perpetuate 
oneself, and for each individual this is literally a life-and-death 
matter for which any sacrifice is not too great, provided it is the 
sacrifice of someone else and provided that the leader and the 
group approve of it. 

Whatever side of heroism we look at, one thing is certain: it is 
an all-consuming activity to make the world conform to our desires. 
And as far as means are concerned, we are all equally insignificant 
and impotent animals trying to coerce the universe, trying to make 
the world over to our own urges. The cultural lie merely continues 
and supports the lie of the Oedipal causa sui project®; when it is 
exposed, we literally become impotent. From which we can con- 
clude that man is an animal who has to live in a lie in order to 
live at all. Psychiatrists who practice in New York report that the 
complaints of impotency increase when the stock market is in a 
low. Conversely, potency is vigorous when the market is high, or a 
“bull” market as the apt term has it. We are reminded of how 
archaic man quickly killed the king as soon as he became impotent : 
it is conceivable that for primitives, like Wall Streeters, actual 
impotency might develop if the cultural system of denial lost its 
power. All of which supports those who hold that death anxiety 
always lingers under the surface and is never surely and smoothly 
absorbed in the cultural hero system. How can the body ever be 
surely transcended by an animal who is body and maybe nothing 
but body and who fears this very thing on some level of his 

I mention these things in passing only to remind the reader of 
the tragic aspect of human heroics and the naturalness of vicious 
scapegoating: somebody has to pay for the way things are. This is 
the meaning of the Devil in history, as many authorities have told 
us. The Devil represents the body, the absolute determinism of 
man’s earthly condition, and that’s why the Devil is so dangerous: 

* For an elaboration of the causa sui project see The Denial of Death (New 
York: The Free Press, 1973). 


The Nature of Social Evil 

he reveals the reality of our situation, the fact that we can’t really 
escape our earthly destiny . 50 To fight the Devil is to fight what he 
stands for, and to make the Devil a scapegoat is to do away with 
what he represents: the defeat of the supernatural, the negation of 
the spiritual victory over body-boundedness. Hence all the vampire 
stories where the blood-feasting evil one is the terrifying threat. The 
truth of the vampire story, of bats, blood, and canine teeth, is the 
same as the truth of the castration complex: that the causa sui 
project via the body is a lie, that our bodies are really our doom; 
so long as we are in them we are subject to the complete dominion 
of earthly laws of blood and animality. Hence only the sign of the 
cross can win out over the vampire, only the domain of invisible 
spirit that promises victory over the body and death can save man. 
Thus the vampire story is a perennial horror-passion play reflecting 
the entire truth of the human condition and the hope beyond it. 
Hence, too, the gory stories throughout history about the Jews’ 
appetite for Gentile children, etc.; for the Nazis the Jews were 
devils, just as Mao’s adversaries were for him . 51 The Devil is the 
one who prevents the heroic victory of immortality in each culture — 
even the atheistic, scientific-humanist ones. On matters of spiritual 
apotheosis every leader shows his basic kinship to Martin Luther, 
because he has to decry the fettering of man’s glorious spirit by 
the body, by personal appetite and selfishness. As Lifton so aptly 
points out, Mao, in his scatological lyricism (denouncing of the 
Chinese government’s subservience to the West), reminds one pre- 
cisely of Luther: “If one of our foreign masters farts, it’s a lovely 
perfume .” 52 The Devil always confounds the body with the ethereal 
and makes the decadent capitalist world seem like socialist heaven. 

Conclusion: Cultures as Styles of 
Heroic Death Denial 

It is fairly easy to draw the moral from all this, even though 
it will be shocking to some of the older styles of doing social theory. 
The continuity from the Enlightenment through Marx, Weber, 
Mannheim, Veblen, and Mills is all there plain as day. The impor- 



tant thing about the analyses of Rank, Burke, Duncan, and Lifton 
is that they reveal precisely those secular forms which the tradi- 
tional religious dramas of redemption now take. It would be easy 
to argue that we now have a fairly good working catalogue of the 
general range of social expressions of basic human motives, and 
that this represents the completion of the work of the great Max 
Weber, who had already shown the social dramas of several 
historical societies, both eastern and western, in the round. 

But with our greater and even more tragic historical experience 
which includes Hitler and Stalin, we can give the Weberian tra- 
dition even more life and critical force: we can extend it from 
primitive man right up to the modem revolutionary monoliths, all 
the while basing it on a few universal principles of human motiva- 
tion. Since there is no secular way to resolve the primal mystery 
of life and death, all secular societies are lies. And since there is 
no sure human answer to such a mystery, all religious integrations 
are mystifications. This is the sober conclusion to ’which we seem 
to be led. Each society is a hero system which promises victory 
over evil and death. But no mortal, nor even a group of as many 
as 700 million clean revolutionary mortals, can keep such a promise: 
no matter how loudly or how artfully he protests or they protest, 
it is not within man’s means to triumph over evil and death. For 
secular societies the thing is ridiculous: what can “victory” mean 
secularly? And for religious societies victory is part of a blind and 
trusting belief in another dimension of reality. Each historical so- 
ciety, then, is a hopeful mystification or a determined lie. 

Many religionists have lamented the great toll that the Hitlers 
and the Stalins have taken in order to give their followers the 
equivalent of religious expiation and immortality; it seemed that 
when man lost the frank religious dimension of experience, he be- 
came even more desperate and wild; when he tried to make the 
earth alone a pure paradise, he had to become even more demonic 
and devilish. But when one looks at the toll of scapegoats that 
religious integrations have taken, one can agree with Duncan that 
religious mystifications have so far been as dangerous as any other.* 5 
No world view has a claim on secure truth, much less on greater 
purity — at least as it has been practiced historically in the social 
world. Harrington, as usual, sums it up very colorfully: 


The Nature of Social Evil 

The plotters of earthly and heavenly paradise have fought, slandered and 
sabotaged one another for hundreds of years. One stands accused of un- 
bridled hubris (risking divine retaliation, jeopardizing everybody’s 
chances); the other of superstition (cringing before mystery); and each 
finds the other obstructing the road to eternal life . 54 

Dostoevsky thought that the only hope for Russia was to worship 
the body of Christ and to have a contented peasantry. When we 
look at the toll of Stalinism we may feel wistful, but we would 
have to be able to count the toll of Dostoevsky’s solution and then 
compare. We don’t have to get embroiled in any abstract arguments 
because the shape of social theory is clear. If each historical society 
is in some ways a lie or a mystification, the study of society becomes 
the revelation of the lie. The comparative study of society becomes 
the assessment of how high are the costs of this lie. Or, looked 
at from another way, cultures are fundamentally and basically 
styles of heroic death denial. We can then ask empirically, it seems 
to me, what are the costs of such denials of death, because we 
know how these denials are structured into styles of life.® These 
costs can be tallied roughly in two ways: in terms of the tyranny 
practiced within the society, and in terms of the victimage practiced 
against aliens or “enemies” outside it . 55 

By assessing the cost of scapegoating and by trying to plan for 
alternative ideals that will absorb basic human fears, we seem to 
have brought up to date the Marxist critique of the human eva- 
sion of freedom; we seem to have finally a secure grip on the 
social problem of death denial. In the Marxist view death is an 
ideology, as the title of an essay by Marcuse has it. This means 
that although death is a natural fear, this fear has always been 
used and exploited by the established powers in order to secure 
their domination. Death is a “culture mechanism” that was utilized 
by societies from primitive times on as a means of social control 
and repression, to help an elite enforce its will on a meek and 

• Franz Borkenau talks about cultures as death-denying, death-defying, and 
death-accepting, alternating with each other in history. But this kind of classi- 
fication seems to me to refer more to different types of transcendence; one 
still has to ask how self-perpetuation is secured in each culture — at least for 
the masses, if not for the few intellectual formulators. See his “The Concept 
of Death,” The Twentieth Century, 1955, 157:317. 



compliant populace. The definition of culture, after all, is that it 
continues the causa sui project of the transcendence of death; and 
so we see the fatality and naturalness of human slavishness; man 
helps secure his own domination by the tribe, the polis, the state, 
the gods, because of his fears . 58 

When we phrase the problem in these terms, we can see how 
immense it is and how far it extends beyond our traditional ways 
of doing science. If you talk about heroics that cost mountains of 
human life, you have to find out why such heroics are practiced 
in a given social system: who is scapegoating whom, what social 
classes are excluded from heroism, what there is in the social 
structure that drives the society blindly to self-destructive heroics, 
etc. Not only that, but you have to actually set up some kind of 
liberating ideal, some kind of life-giving alternative to the thought- 
less and destructive heroism; you have to begin to scheme to give 
to man an opportunity for heroic victory that is not a simple reflex 
of narcissistic scapegoating. You have to conceive of the possibility 
of a nondestructive yet victorious social system. It was precisely 
this problem that was designed by William James over two gen- 
erations ago, in his famous essay “The Moral Equivalent of War,” 
but needless to say we have done nothing about it even on a con- 
ceptual level, much less on an active social level. Little wonder 
that things are in a mess. 

One of the reasons social scientists have been slow in getting 
around to such designs has been the lack of an adequate and agreed 
general theory of human nature. James didn’t have one, and it has 
taken us this long to begin to sort out the real legacy of Freud. 
Modem Marxism still does not show man in the round and so still 
seems naive to mature scholars in its easy optimism. Even the in- 
jection of Freudian dogma into Marxism, in the work of Marcuse, 
is still too clumsy a commentary on the human condition. I will 
sum up a critique of Marcuse toward the close of this book; but 
right now it is important to direct the reader in the quest for an 
agreed general theory of human nature to exactly what cripples the 
autonomy of the individual. The Enlightenment hope for free and 
autonomous men was never bom; and one reason is that we have 
not known until after Freud the precise dynamics that makes men 
so tragically slavish. Why are all enjoinders to us to take command 


The Nature of Social Evil 

of our fears, to stand upright, to build a science in society that 
reflects rational control — why are these so impossibly utopian? We 
have already in this book seen most of the reasons for this. It re- 
mains now to put the last technical piece into place. This should 
enable us to finally piece together the legacy of Freud for social 


Freud saw that the patient in analysis developed intense at- 
tachment to the person of the analyst. The analyst became the core 
of his life, the object of his every thought, a complete fascination. 
Seeing that this was an uncanny phenomenon, Freud explained it 
as transference — that is, the transference of feelings the patient once 
had towards his parents to the new power figure in his life, the 
doctor. Expanding his findings into a theoretical framework using 
transference as a universal mechanism, Freud directed his interests 
to the psychology of leadership and produced his Group Psychology 
and the Analysis of the Ego. Here, in less than 100 pages, he ex- 
plained why men were so sheeplike when they functioned in 
groups — how they abandoned their egos to the leader, identified 
with his powers just as they did once before when as dependent 
children they yielded to their parents. 

Gradually, through the works of Adler, Rank, Fromm, Jung, and 
others, we have seen a shift in emphasis to a more comprehensive 
view of transference, building on Freud. So that today we can say 
that transference is a reflex of the fatality of the human condition. 
Transference to a powerful other takes care of the overwhelming- 
ness of the universe. Transference to a powerful other handles the 
fear of life and death. To avoid repetition of myself, I refer the 
interested reader to “The Spell Cast by Persons,” a complete chapter 
on transference in The Denial of Death. 


Social Theory: 
The Merger of Marx and Freud 

Let us take a lingering look over our shoulder to see where we have 
come. Rousseau, as we saw in Chapter Three, made an important 
beginning in trying to explain the problems we have been dealing 
with in the last five chapters — how oppression, degradation, and 
large-scale misery and evil arose out of a relatively harmless primi- 
tive human state. But Rousseau’s thesis, like that of traditional 
Marxist theory, does not take sufficient account of the psychological 
dimension of man’s unfreedom. This we will take up further in 
this chapter, and we will place the psychological aspect right where 
it belongs: at the heart of social theory. 

Conservatives, who never took Rousseau seriously except as a 
madman, never agreed with Marxian theory either. As Edmund 
Burke and others who shuddered at the French Revolution under- 
stood, it still left human nature intact, and so had to again bring 
about a relatively deplorable and tragic state of affairs. There was 
a long current of disagreement in the nineteenth century about 
many aspects of Marx’s theory about primitive communism, about 
the origin of the state in conquest, etc., but it all came to rest on 
one problem alone: the nature of man. The Marxists thought that 
man was unfree because he was coerced by the power of others; 
the conservatives said he was unfree because of innate differences 
in men. Some men worked harder, some were stronger, some had 
more talent and skill, hence things were naturally unequal. People 
needed to work together, to make and gather the fruits of uneven 
talents, and so society by its nature was a necessary and willing 
agreement to share unequally among unequals. If inequalities were 
greater in modem times, well, so were the fruits which most people 
could enjoy; greater, too, were the differences in skill, etc. So the 
conservatives were relatively free of the moral outrage and sense of 


Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 129 

injustice which animated the radicals and still animates them. But 
they themselves were profoundly outraged by the cost in human 
lives and misery of the revolutions that were supposed to set things 
straight, and that only seemed to make man as much of a slave 
and a cipher as he was before, if not more so. In czarist times a 
political prisoner might bribe a jailer, but in Soviet Russia today 
no dissenter can bribe the white-frocked state psychiatrist out of 
plugging him into the wall. 

If we shudder at the thought of the total determinism of modem 
tyranny, we must admit that the conservative case has weight, just 
as it had in the nineteenth century, especially since we today know 
fairly accurately how historical inequality came about — at least in 
a theoretical way. And we know that this process started long 
before the rise of the state: in fact, it was inherent in primitive 
societies themselves, as we saw in Chapter Three — even in the most 
egalitarian ones, in hunting and gathering societies, the simplest 
known. These societies knew no distinctions of rank, little or no 
authority of one individual over another; they had very simple 
possessions and so there was no real difference in wealth; property 
was distributed equally. Yet even on this level individual differences 
were recognized and already formed the germ of social differenti- 
ation which would gradually lead to distinctions of rank, accumu- 
lated wealth, hereditary privilege, and the eventual rise and en- 
trenchment of the exploitative state. 

To return to our discussion of Rousseau in Chapter Three, it 
would seem that, with its emphasis on differences in personal quali- 
ties as the largest factor in inequality among men, his “Discourse” 1 
supports the conservative argument — or would support it, rather, if 
the essay were not filled with errors and fantastic conjectures. I 
am not going to burden the reader with an assessment of Rousseau’s 
essay, picking out its brilliant insights or its ludicrous ones based 
on a fanciful anthropology, but will only cite two crucial points. 
First, the basic fallacy: that there was a time in early social evolu- 
tion when men were not influenced by differences in personal 
qualities. Rousseau is able to maintain this because of a truly fan- 
tastic sketch of social evolution, in which he sees man at first as an 
isolated animal, not even living in a family group. Gradually family 
life evolved, and then tribal life, and it was at that time that “each 



one began to look at the others and to want to be looked at him- 
self, and public esteem had a value .” 2 His famous idea on the 
“state of nature” begins, then, with the epoch of the “savage” who 
“lives within himself.” It ends when man came out of this state 
into that of society; he became “sociable man, always outside him- 
self,” who “knows how to live only in the opinion of others.” And 
so Rousseau can conclude that man’s downfall does not begin in 
the “original state of man,” but “that it is the spirit of society 
alone, and the inequality it engenders, which thus change and alter 
all our natural inclinations” 3 — that is, our “natural” solitariness, 
our “natural immunity” to the personal qualities of others.” 

The second point of fantasy in Rousseau’s essay is easier to under- 
stand because it is based on fact: he saw no accumulation of goods 
in the primitive societies of his time, and so he thought that 
primitive man wanted “only to live and remain idle” and refused 
to work to build up an accumulation of goods. Accumulated goods 
in civilized society were a visible burden on those who slaved for 
them, and they were a direct cause of social injustice; and so Rous- 
seau could say that the primitive state was one of delightful laziness 
and freedom . 4 But we know this is the wrong conclusion: rather, 
hunters and gatherers cannot accumulate a surplus because of 
primitive technology and subsistence economy, not because they do 
not want the surplus. They are already eager to accumulate a 
surplus of wives and to gain special privileges for hunting lands, 

” There is no point in confronting this thesis with the data of evolution which 
show that man must have always lived in some kind of family group just like 
his primate ancestors. Or with the data of social psychology which show that 
self-esteem is artificialized right from the maternal milk and the first words 
the child learns. Or in pointing out how conveniently blurred Rousseau’s expo- 
sition is: he uses the word “savage” for those at the first stage of the state 
of nature and those at the last, when they are already — by his analysis — 
“sociable” men and hence corrupted. The Caribs that he lauds as “savages” 
were hardly in a state of nature, since they were already “sociable” men who 
knew full well about such things as “power and reputation.” (Jean-Jacques 
Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, 1755 [New York: St. Martin’s, 
1964], ed. R. D. Masters, p. 179. ) But by this elastic use of the word “savage” 
Rousseau could talk about an ideal man that predates society, and he could 
also use the primitive societies of his time as an ideal criticism of his own 
western society. So Rousseau could blame natural inequality for causing wealth 
and corruption, and he could decry inequality at the same time as an artificial 
creation of advanced social life. In this way, he moved imperceptibly from 
the psychology of inequality to the historical injustice of it. 

Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 131 

etc. The drive for self-expansion is there, but there are neither op- 
portunities nor the world picture into which to fit it. Or, as we 
would say with Brown, the state of nature is not idle, it is anal like 
all other human states. 

Simce Rousseau wrote, we have learned something from the vast 
collections of data on primitive man: that if he was not in bondage 
to the authority of living persons, he was at the utter mercy of the 
power of spirits. Because of man’s fear of life and death, the tribe 
was in hock to the spirits of the dead. Or, if in some tribes men 
did not seem to fear death, it was because they had transmuted 
this fear by immersing themselves in the group ideology, whatever 
it may have been. Now this leads us to a completely opposite 
position from Rousseau, even on his fanciful sketch of social evo- 
lution: that is, in the state of nature the solitary individual is 
already unfree, even before he gets to society; he carries within 
himsielf the bondage that he needs in order to live. We know today 
that 'Rousseau used the idea of the “state of nature” as an explora- 
tory hypothesis to be able to imagine how life might be in a state 
of freedom from social coercion. We know too what a powerful 
critical tool this idea has been, and how it has helped us to high- 
light: the state as a structure of domination from Marx all the way 
up to Mumford. But the fact is that man never was free and cannot 
be from his own nature as the starting point. Rare individuals may 
achieve freedom at the end of years of experience and effort; and 
they can do this best under conditions of advanced civilization 
such as those that Rousseau scorned. 

An we have seen, each human type seeks to perpetuate itself if 
it has the power to do so; it tries to expand and aggrandize itself 
in the ways open to it. But on primitive levels the power figures 
are always suspect precisely because of their dangerous power; 
henCe the constant anxiety about witches, etc. It was Frazer who 
showed that the early tribal embodiments of magical power were 
ready scapegoats for the people — not only witches but priest-kings 
too. s No wonder that when kings later got real power to work 
their will on the helpless masses, they used that power ruthlessly; 
in this perspective the divine king of the great slave state of the 
Mediterranean basin is the earlier shaman come of age and of 
unlimited power. 6 We might say that instead of themselves being 



scapegoats, they used the entire people as their own sacrificial ani- 
mals, marching them off to military holocausts at will. The logic 
of this kind of turning of the tables is almost inevitable. As Canetti 
has so beautifully argued, what each person wants is to be a 
survivor, to cheat death and to remain standing no matter how 
many others have fallen around him. In tribal society the people 
are the survivors if they can be, even at the expense of an occasional 
power figure who detaches himself too much from the general level 
of safe mutuality and symbiosis. In the later tyrannical state, it 
was only natural that the king reverse this procedure — that he 
prove himself to be the survivor no matter how many of his people 
died, or even because they died, as we saw in Chapter Eight . 7 

Seen in this way, history is the saga of the working out of one’s 
problems on others — harmlessly when one has no power (or when 
the "weapon” is art), viciously when one has the power and when 
the weapons are the arsenals of the total state. This saga continues 
in modern times but in forms which disguise the coercion and 
emphasize the social agreement, but the dialogue is the same: in- 
dividuals skilled in focusing power, and masses hungry for it and 
fearful of it. Each society elevates and rewards leaders who are 
talented at giving the masses heroic victory, expiation for guilt, 
relief of personal conflicts. It doesn’t matter how these are achieved: 
magical religious ritual, magical booming stock markets, magical 
heroic fulfillment of five-year plans, or mana-charged military mega- 
machines — or all together. What counts is to give the people the 
self-expansion in righteousness that they need. The men who have 
power can exercise it through many different kinds of social and 
economic structures, but a universal psychological hunger underpins 
them all; it is this that locks people and power figures together 
in a life-and-death contract. 

The Nature of Man 

The question of the origins of inequality is only half of the 
problem of a sophisticated Marxist philosophy of history. The other 
half is that Rousseau’s argument with Hobbes has never been 


Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 

satisfactorily settled. The Marxists have said, with Rousseau, that 
human nature is a blank slate, neutral, even good; evil exists because 
of social institutions that encourage it, because of social classes and 
the hate, envy, competition, degradation, and scapegoating that 
stem from them; change society and man’s natural goodness will 
flower. Not so, say the conservatives, and they point for proof at 
those revolutionary societies which have abolished social class but 
which continue to express personal and social evil; evil, then, must 
be in the heart of the creature; the best that social institutions can 
do is to keep it blunted; and social institutions that already ef- 
fectively do this without excessive repression and within legal safe- 
guards for individual rights — why, such social institutions should 
not be changed. So argue the conservatives. 

This question has been the central one of the science of man, 
and as such the knottiest in its whole career; thus it is logical that 
it is the last problem to be solved. I myself have been coming back 
to it again and again for a dozen years now, and each time I 
thought there was a clear solution I later discovered that vital things 
had been left unsaid. At first it seemed to me that Rousseau had 
already won the argument with Hobbes: had he said that evil is a 
robust child? Then, as Rousseau argued, children are clumsy, blus- 
tering organisms who must take some toll of their environment, 
who seek activity and self-expansion in an innocent way, but who 
cannot yet control themselves. Their intentions are not evil, even 
if their acts cause damage. In this view, man is an energy-converting 
organism who must exert his manipulative powers, who must dam- 
age his world in some ways, who must make it uncomfortable for 
others, etc., by his own nature as an active being. He seeks self- 
expansion from a very uncertain power base. Even if man hurts 
others, it is because he is weak and afraid, not because he is con- 
fident and cruel. Rousseau summed up this point of view with the 
idea that only the strong person can be ethical, not the weak one. 

Later I agreed too with the Marxists, that hate and violent 
aggression could be developed in man as a special kind of cultural 
orientation, something people learned to do in order to be big 
and important — as some primitive tribes learned warfare and won 
social esteem because of their cruelty to enemies, etc. It was not, as 
Freud had imagined, that man had instincts of hate and aggression, 



but rather that he could easily be molded in that way by the 
society which rewarded them. The thing that characterized man 
was his need for self-esteem, and he would do anything his society 
wanted in order to earn it. 

From this point of view, even scapegoating and the terrible toll 
it has taken historically seemed to be explainable in Rousseau’s 
terms: the thing that man wanted most was to be part of a close 
and loving ingroup, to feel at peace and harmony with others of 
his kind. And to achieve this intimate identification it was necessary 
to strike at strangers, pull the group together by focusing it on 
an outside target. So even Hugh Duncan’s analysis of the sacrificial 
ravages of the Nazis could be approached in terms of neutral mo- 
tives or even altruistic ones: love, harmony, unity. And Hannah 
Arendt’s famous analysis of Eichmann would also fit in with this: 
here was a simple bureaucrat who wanted only to be admired and 
rewarded for a job efficiently done and who wielded his rubber 
stamp on the death of millions with the nonchalance of a postal 
clerk. We could even, as we have seen, subsume this under the 
Agape motive: man wants to merge with a larger whole, have 
something to dedicate his existence to in trustfulness and in hu- 
mility; he wants to serve the cosmic powers. The most noble hu- 
man motive, then, would cause the greatest damage because it 
would lead men to find their highest use as part of an obedient 
mass, to give their complete devotion and their lives to their leaders. 
Arthur Koestler, who has one of the best flairs for comprehending 
the motives of modern men, recently reaffirmed this; in his opinion 
it is not aggressive drives that have taken the greatest toll in 
history, but rather “unselfish devotion,” “hyper-dependence com- 
bined with suggestibility” — the very things discussed in the final 
pages of the last chapter. In Koestler’s view, man is less driven by 
adrenalin than he is drugged by symbols, by cultural belief systems, 
by abstractions like flags and anthems: “Wars are fought for 
words. . . ,” s Again, Rousseau would be vindicated. 

He would also be supported by Erich Fromm’s lifelong study of 
aggression, where he shows that much of it is due to the way 
children are brought up and the kind of life experiences people 
have. On this view, the most twisted and vicious people would be 
those who have been most deprived, most cheated of love, warmth, 


Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 

self-realization. Dr. Strangelove would be the paradigm of the 
kind of mechanical coldness and life frustration which leads to 
world destruction . 9 Again, this is a pure Marxist view: changing 
the life-denying institutions of modem society would enable a new 
type of human being to take shape . 10 The hope of the Enlighten- 
ment in its full development is represented by Fromm: to show 
clinically what prevents self-reliant men. This has been the burden 
of all of Fromms work: to argue for the ideal of autonomy while 
showing precisely what hinders it in the interplay of individual 
psychology and society. In this way the whole historical problem 
of slavishness is attacked. People were always ready to yield their 
wills, to worship the hero, because they were not given a chance 
for developing initiative, stability, and independence, said the great 
nineteenth-century Russian sociologist Nikolai Mikhailovsky . 11 Em- 
erson also made this a central teaching of his whole life, holding 
that man was still a tool of others because he had not developed 
self-reliance, full and independent insides. Fromm argues that only 
in this way could man get some kind of even keel, some sort of 
inner gyroscope that would keep him from alternating eternally 
between the poles of sadism and masochism. 

Contra Rousseau 

So much, then, for a sketch of insights into the problem of 
aggression in human life. As I said, insights like these seemed to 
me to cover the problem, yet something vital was always left un- 
said. It was not until I confronted the work of Rank, and then 
Brown, that the gap could be filled. Now I think the matter can 
be pushed to a comprehensive conclusion, that we have a general 
theory of human evil. Evil is caused by all the things we have 
outlined, plus the one thing they have left out, the driving impetus 
that underlies them all: mans hunger for righteous self-expansion 
and perpetuation. No wonder it has taken us so long to pull all 
the fragmentary insights together, to join the views of both sides 
on the nature of man. The greatest cause of evil included all human 
motives in one giant paradox. Good and bad were so inextricably 



mixed that we couldn’t make them out; bad seemed to lead to 
good, and good motives led to bad. The paradox is that evil comes 
from man’s urge to heroic victory over evil. The evil that troubles 
man most is his vulnerability; he seems impotent to guarantee the 
absolute meaning of his life, its significance in the cosmos. He as- 
sures a plenitude of evil, then, by trying to make closure on his 
cosmic heroism in this life and this world. This is exactly what 
Rank meant in the epigraph I have used for Chapter Seven: all the 
intolerable sufferings of mankind result from man’s attempt to make 
the whole world of nature reflect his reality, his heroic victory; he 
thus tries to achieve a perfection on earth, a visible testimonial to 
his cosmic importance; but this testimonial can only be given con- 
clusively by the beyond, by the source of creation itself which alone 
knows man’s value because it knows his task, the meaning of his 
life; man has confused two spheres, the visible and whatever is 
beyond, and this blindness has permitted him to undertake the 
impossible — to extend the values of his limited visible sphere over 
all the rest of creation, whatever forms it may take. The tragic 
evils of history, then, are a commensurate result of a blindness and 
impossibility of such magnitude. 

This explains at the same time the motives that we left unsaid 
in our sketch. Hobbes was right as well as Rousseau: man is a 
robustly active creature; activity alone keeps him from going crazy. 
If he bogs down and begins to dwell on his situation, he risks 
releasing the neurotic fear repressed into his unconscious — that he 
is really impotent and will have no effect on the world. So he 
frantically drives himself to see his effects, to convince himself and 
others that he really counts. This alone is enough to cause evil all 
by itself: an energetic organism with personal anxieties about his 
powers. Where is human energy directed if not at objects — human 
objects most of the time? In other words, man must take out his 
personal problems on a transference object in one way or another; 
as psychiatrists now put it, man’s whole life is a series of “games” 
enmeshing himself with others, reflexively and drivenly for the most 
part, and according to some scenario of power. The playwright 
Eugene Ionesco summed up what he thought was the real problem 
of these games in this lament: “As long as we are not assured of 
immortality, we shall never be fulfilled, we shall go on hating each 


Social Theory : The Merger of Marx and Freud 

other in spite of our need for mutual love .” 12 The most general 
statement we could make is that at the very least each person 
“appropriates” the other in some way so as to perpetuate himself. 
In this sense, “styles of life” are styles of appropriation of the other 
to secure one’s righteous self-perpetuation. We might say that there 
is a natural and built-in evil in social life because all interaction 
is mutual appropriation. We saw a direct example of this in the 
relation of the leader to the group. Gurus feed on disciples while 
the disciples are incorporating them; social life seems at times like 
a science-fiction horror story, with everyone mutually gobbling each 
other like human spiders. 

Historically we saw how this worked in the dialogue between 
masses and power figures; but we also saw how human energy and 
fear created evil on the simplest levels of social organization. We 
talked mostly about spirit-power motives and guilt, but sometimes 
it was more simple and direct: it could be a matter of sheer physical 
appetite. Some tribes loved the taste of human flesh and incor- 
porated captive men, women, and children with joy and gusto, with 
simple stomach motives, we might say — as in Melanesia and among 
some South American tribes. Sometimes men went to war out of 
personal frustration in the tribe, to work off sexual jealousy and 
grief, or even simple boredom . 13 Life on primitive levels could be 
monotonous, and warfare was often the main source of new ex- 
perience, travel, real stimulation. In fact, on the primitive level it 
is almost transparent that warfare was a “game” for appropriating 
others and enmeshing one’s life with them; we see this clearly 
among the Plains Indians, where warfare was often really a kind of 
athletic contest between tribes. But organismic urges are by their 
nature sadistic, and primitive man often wreaked evil on a captured 
enemy because of his desire to gloat and strut; he tortured to 
affirm himself, to increase his own sense of importance by humili- 
ating others. And so we see that even without spiritual motives, 
without otherworldly ambitions of any kind, man causes evil as an 
organism by enjoying his feeling of animal power. Again, this is 
what Hobbes saw, that sheer energy causes evil. 

My point in lingering on this is to show that we can have no 
psychology of evil unless we stress the driving personal motives 
behind man’s urge to heroic victory. It may seem on the surface 



that empty, passive, disinterested people are led like sheep to 
perform vicious acts, that man easily loses his judgment in the 
crowd, that he gets carried away by numbers, by shouts, by cleverly 
phrased slogans and colorful banners — this we might call the “im- 
pressionable spectator” theory of aggression . 14 No doubt there is 
considerable stimulus given to man by the size and enthusiasm of 
the group around him. After all, he worships power and has to 
respond to the obvious power of numbers, thrill to the spectacle 
of masses; it is visible proof that nature favors man if she has made 
his kind multiply so; she seems on the side of his victory. Another 
thing, which as Buber saw is that man is stimulated to believe in 
his heroic destiny by the sight of another human face: it shows 
the miracle of creation shining out of man, and the fact that this 
miracle has deep in its eyes and in its head the same beliefs as 
you, gives you the feeling that your very beliefs are supported by 
natural creation. Little wonder that the sight and feel of thousands 
of such miracles moving together with you gives such absolute 
righteous conviction. 

So there is no argument about the fact of mass enthusiasm; the 
question is how important it is as a cause of aggression. Konrad 
Lorenz thinks it is perhaps the most important cause , 16 but Freud 
had already downgraded it in his confrontation of Le Bon and 
Trotter, the early theorists of “mental contagion” and the “herd 
mind .” 16 Freud asked the question, Why the contagion from the 
herd? and he found the motive in the person and not in the char- 
acter of the herd. We know how mobs can be stopped by stopping 
their leaders, or how panic breaks out when the leader is killed; 
Freud had explained how the mob identifies with the leader. But 
beyond that we also saw that man brings his motives in with him 
when he identifies with power figures. He is suggestible and sub- 
missive because he is waiting for the magical helper. He gives in 
to the magic transformation of the group because he wants relief 
of conflict and guilt. He follows the leader’s initiatory act because 
he needs priority magic so that he can delight in holy aggression. 
He moves in to kill the sacrificial scapegoat with the wave of the 
crowd, not because he is carried along by the wave, but because 
he likes the psychological barter of another life for his own: “You 
die, not me.” The motives and the needs are in men and not in 


Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 

situations or surroundings.® It is true, as Koestler affirms, that man’s 
urge to self-transcendence, his devotion to a cause, has made more 
butchery than private aggressiveness in history, and that the deva- 
stating group hatred is fed by the love of its members, their willing- 
ness even to die in its name . 17 We know that as soon as primitives 
developed identifiable gods and a large social conglomerate to give 
their loyalty to, their own natural sadistic appetites were translated 
into the large-scale sacrifices of others that we see in history: one 
no longer looked for a skull to eat the brains from, or to shrink 
for magic power, or to plant in the ground facing the enemy so 
as to mock him — one now couldn’t get enough skulls for paving 
the temple floor, as in Polynesia or West Africa. But Koestler’s line 
of reasoning leads us to a group psychology that would be based 
only on noble human hopes and not on animal fears — the fact is 
that the primitive already took the heads of others for his own 
enhancement, of whatever petty and personal kind. It is true that 
Eichmann felt physically sick on the one occasion when he actually 
watched the deadly gas at work, which proves that he was not 
personally a sadist 18 — but does not prove that he had no personal 
stake in the killing. As Freud taught us once and for all, men are 
torn in two by the contradictions that result from their needs and 
not by what they innocently get caught up in. And as Rank added, 
when they are at their most sheepish and submissive, they are 
giving vent to the Agape urge in their nature; when they twist and 
turn to please the leader and the group, they are trying to qualify 
for absolute goodness and purity so as to be worthy of being 
included in their transcendence. The individual gives himself to the 
group because of his desire to share in its immortality; we must 
say, even, that he is willing to die in order not to die. 

Another way of looking at this is to say that the basic general 
motive of man — his need for self-esteem, for a feeling of primary 
value — is not a neutral vessel. True, its contents vary with each 

* As to the question whether leaders or thegroup influences these motives 
more, wewould have to study the matter along thelines that Redl developed: 
it would probably depend on whether the heroic cause had a definite form 
and continuity which would be felt by the members independently of a par- 
ticular leader (say, the Allied cause in World War II) or whether the leader 
himself gave form and continuity to the cause, embodied it and represented it 
in his own person (as did Hitler and Napoleon). 


individual and with each society; people learn different ways of 
feeling warm self-value. I myself have written and argued that the 
self-esteem motive is elastic and neutral, but I now see that this is 
not quite so. True, there are no instincts that absolutely determine 
when people should feel good about themselves. But self-esteem 
is equivalent to “righteousness” or feeling “right.” Which means 
that self-esteem is based on an active passion: man cannot feel right 
unless he lives the heroic victory over evil, the assurance of im- 
mortality. From the beginning, then, the self-esteem is loaded with 
this task universally, and given its form by how it resolves this task. 
Which, of course, is another way of saying that the self-esteem is 
based on the cultural continuation of the causa sui project in the 
child. This is how it has always been understood, only now we 
add that the character of this causa sui project is definite and in- 
flexible: the securing of immortality (in whichever way this is 
understood by the individual and the society). 

Along with this we have to make an important addition to 
Fromm's approach to aggression. It is true that frustrated, deprived, 
weak, unindividuated people commit aggression very readily; clini- 
cal records are eloquent on this. It is true too that there are 
mechanical people who fear life, who need to control things with a 
secure sense of power, who prefer inanimate objects to living ones, 
etc. Fromm calls them “necrophiles,” or lovers of death, in opposi- 
tion to “biophiles,” or lovers of life. This is a valuable distinction 
in character structures because it helps us to focus on different ways 
of bringing up children which might lead to one or the other 
general orientation — to a love of life which develops sentiments of 
warm humanity or to a “syndrome of decay” which stifles these 
sentiments. If we could, we would certainly want to avoid raising 
generations of young who respect computers more than they do 
others. Fromm says that one explanation of the fact that the world 
is now bordering on nuclear destruction is the widespread preva- 
lence of a modem Homo mechanicus. It may be, he says, that 
people do not fear total destruction because they do not love life, 
or are indifferent to it, or even are attracted to death, fascinated 
by the prospect of total destruction . 19 

From all we know, I think it would be nearer the truth to talk 
about a cultural type of man who earns his immortality from 

1 4 1 

Social Theory : The Merger of Marx and Freud 

identification with the powers of machines, rather than a simple 
lover of death. Mass destruction committed under the reign of God 
the Machine is a tribute to the expansion of an implacable, efficient 
force with which modem men can identify — it would not be an 
attraction to the stillness of death itself. This attraction seems to 
me more of a Buddhistic sentiment — that is, the achievement of a 
certain kind of maturity and transcendence. The mechanical man 
may scorn and fear living things, but I think it is precisely because 
he feels that they do not have the power over life and death that 
machines have; his eternity symbol is then the machine which 
transcends both life and death. Even for a Hitler death was not 
an end in itself, but a power transformation to a higher vitality, a 
better order. 

But all this is simply a minor dilemma of clarification of cultural 
and clinical types; it will take very much more work to sort these 
things out, and we may never be able to do it in any but a very 
gross and suggestive way. There is something much more crucial at 
stake in Fromm’s attempt to place the problem of aggression on a 
continuum from normal types to pathological ones. And we right 
away know what it is: not only weak, or mechanical, or patho- 
logical, or “primitive and elemental” types aggress, but also fat, 
jolly ones — people who have had abundant childhood care and 
love! The man who dropped the atomic bomb is the warm, 
gentle boy who grew up next door. The kings of Dahomey who sig- 
naled annually for the heads of hundreds of murdered prisoners 
to be piled in heaps very likely had a child-rearing experience that 
Margaret Mead could have written about favorably. The reason is 
positive and simple: man aggresses not only out of frustration and 
fear but out of joy, plenitude, love of life. Men kill lavishly out of 
the sublime joy of heroic triumph over evil. Voild tout. What are 
clinical classifications and niceties going to do with that? 

It is true, I think, that a weak man will more easily, if pushed, 
buy off his own death by taking another, and that a strong man 
will be less likely to do this. It is true, too, that most men will not 
usually kill unless it is under the banner of some kind of fight 
against evil; in which case one is tempted, like Koestler, to blame 
the banner, the propaganda and artificial belief system, and not the 
men. But banners don’t wrap themselves around men: men invent 



banners and clutch at them; they hunger for believable words that 
dress life in convincing meaning. As Dostoevsky so well put it, men 
would die if they didn’t have nice words to speak (to make sense 
out of their occasions). They would die, not because words are 
nice trimmings to life, but because without words action stops dead, 
and when action stops the gnawing realization of impotency and 
the dumb futility of animal life begins. Words abolish fear and 
embody hope in themselves. I think it is time for social scientists 
to catch up with Hitler as a psychologist, and to realize that men 
will do anything for heroic belonging to a victorious cause if they 
are persuaded about the legitimacy of that cause. And I know no 
psychology, and so far no conditions on this earth, which would 
exempt man from fulfilling his urge to cosmic heroism, which means 
from identifying evil and moving against it. In all cases but one 
this means moving also against individuals who embody evil. The 
one case, of course, is the teaching of the great religions, and in its 
modem guise pacifism, or nonviolence. This is a 2, 000-year-old ideal 
at which descriptive psychology stops, since it is an ideal that has 
hardly yet made a dent in the affairs and minds of men. But we 
will return to this vital matter of values in the conclusion of this 

[It was at this stage in the original manuscript that the decision 
was made to cut material devoted to a study of the modern ap- 
proaches to Darwinism, which now appears as a unique publica- 
tion elsewhere ° In essence the authors intention in the eliminated 
pages was to help bridge the gap between the biological and cul- 
tural scientists on the issue of human motives. Differences between 
the two camps of scientists are seen as differences in premises and 
approaches and not in the conclusions drawn. There is agreement 
among scientists on man’s basic animality — the fact that he is con- 
ditioned by the environment, that he does not act freely, altogether 
rationally, or with full self-knowledge. 

Lorenz, Darwin, Freud, Rank, and Brown all see irrationality as 
a fundamental part of man. The author’s plea is for taking a larger 

• The interested reader is directed to "Toward the Merger of Animal and 
Human Studies," Philosophy of the Social Sciences, vol. 4, nos. 2-3, June- 
September 1974, pp. 235-254. 

Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 143 

phenomenological field approach and viewing man as an animal 
who enjoys organismic self-expansion, needs to feel powerful and 
to banish death. With this approach both the basic animality and 
the larger phenomenological problems missed by instinctual re- 
ductionism are dealt with.] 

Conclusion: The Shape of Social Theory 

As we saw earlier, inequality did not arise as the radicals thought 
— only with the advent of private property and the growth of 
state structures of domination. Nor was it as “natural” as the con- 
servatives wanted: oppressive power has always been in the service 
of “the legitimate order.” 20 Similarly, human nature is not as neutral 
as Rousseau and Marx wanted; nor is it as ineluctably evil as con- 
servatives like to make out in order to keep the status quo. Radical 
theorists must realize that if you give men political and economic 
equality, they will still welcome unfreedom in some form. Conserva- 
tives must know that the freedom to obey or not to obey, to delegate 
one’s powers to authority, is not so free: it is coerced in the very 
beginning and by the very nature of man’s perceptions of power and 
majesty. The “talents” that men use to amass wealth and social 
privilege may be due to some real differences in- quality of mind 
and body; but the talent to mystify others is the queen of tyranny, 
and it is not all natural and neutral, but partly man-made — made 
by ignorance, thirst for illusion, and fear. As such, it is part of the 
scientific problem of human liberation, and is not destined to 
remain wholly in the natural order of things. 21 

If the complexities of the psychological dimensions of inequality 
and the unfreedom at the heart of human nature are sure to please 
no one who is firmly embedded in an ideological camp, then it 
becomes even more difficult to know what we are going to do about 
them or how we are going to approach them. The pluralism of 
ideologies will continue to talk and act past them. But a few things 
seem clear: although the radicals may not like it, the science of 
society will have to go much more slowly and modestly than was at 
first realized by Rousseau and Marx. Unless, of course, it subserves 


violent revolution — in which case, as we have learned to our sorrow, 
the new society that comes into being has even less chance of 
being openly scientific. As for the conservatives, although they may 
shrink back in fear, there is nothing to prevent the science of man 
from being the absolutely critical and meliorative science of society 
that was envisioned in the Enlightenment. There is nothing in 
human nature that dooms in advance the most thoroughgoing 
social changes and utopian ambitions. It used to be thought, for 
example, that if man’s innate aggressiveness was a drive that had to 
find expression, then all societies had to have some means of “hate 
satisfaction.” No less an anthropologist than Clyde Kluckhohn 
maintained that . 22 Many of our best minds have been tortuously 
struggling with the implications of this: it did not seem possible to 
have any kind of humanistic, liberating social theory if man carried 
within himself the seeds of destructiveness . 23 And certainly the 
facts of the history of war and scapegoating seem to have borne 
out Kluckhohn and Freud and hosts of others. But if hate is not a 
basic drive or a quantum of instinct, but instead results from the 
fear of death and impotency and can be relieved by a heroic 
victory over a hate object, then at least we have some scientific 
purchase on the problem. A science of man in society is possible 
even while admitting the most destructive motives of men, precisely 
because these motives become open and amenable to clear analysis, 
to a tracing out of their total structure in the full field of human 
affairs as those affairs reflect the torments of man’s inner life, his 
existential paradoxes. 

Social theory, then, is neither radical nor conservative, but 
scientific; and we should begin to get scientific agreement on its 
basic image of man and society. If we have an agreed image in a 
science, there is nothing to prevent us from moving on to the kinds 
of social designs that we talked about in Chapter Eight: designs 
for the possibility of nondestructive yet victorious types of social 
systems. We have a general theory of human nature that is entirely 
“naturalistic,” as Kenneth Burke wanted, and one that could 
theoretically “immunize mankind” to its “natural weakness” — the 
scapegoating for its own fears and needs. A social ideal could be 
designed that takes into account man’s basest motives, but now an 
ideal not directly negated by those motives. In others words, a hate 

Social Theory: The Merger of Marx and Freud 145 

object need not be any special class or race or even human enemy, 
but could be things that take impersonal but real forms, like 
poverty, disease, oppression, natural disasters, etc. Or, if we know 
that evil takes human form in oppressors and hangmen, then we 
could at least try to make our hatreds of men intelligent and in- 
formed: we could work against the enemies of freedom, those who 
thrive on slavery, on the gullibilities and weaknesses of their fellow 
man, as Burke so eloquently argued. 24 

I admit in concluding that this raises more problems than it 
solves, since men hate and love according to their individual under- 
standings and personal needs. But we have to try to take things 
one step further; the whole thrust of the science of man since the 
Enlightenment has been after all a promise that objectivity about 
evil is possible. This objectivity about evil introduces what we might 
call the possibility of objective hatred. This clarification of hatred 
would allow us, once more, to make the circle on James’s timeless 
plea for a moral equivalent to natural sadism, to hope to translate 
our self-expansion into a furtherance of life instead of the destruc- 
tion of it. Finally, if we know that we ourselves hate because of the 
same needs and urges to heroic victory over evil as those we hate, 
there is perhaps no better way to begin to introduce milder justice 
into the affairs of men. This is the great moral that Albert Camus 
drew from our demonic times, when he expressed the moving hope 
that a day would come when each person would proclaim in his 
own fashion the superiority of being wrong without killing others 
than being right in the quiet of the charnel house. 


Retrospect and Conclusion: 
What Is the Heroic Society? 

... if we can no longer live the great symbolisms 
of the sacred in accordance with the original belief 
in them, we can, we modern men, aim at a second 
naivete in and through criticism. 

Paul Ricoeur 1 

I have come a long way and laid a lot of ink on the pulp of 
dead trees; it is now time to justify this expenditure of nature’s 
bounty, not to mention the reader’s indulgence. The only way to 
do this would be to show that what we know about man tells us 
about the possibilities for man, even though we have sketched a 
rather pathetic portrait of him. If we have really gotten at what 
makes people act the way they do, at basic human motives, then we 
can really talk intelligently to the question that is the most intimate 
to our heart — what men have always yearned to know, namely, 
What is possible? 

As far as the science of man is concerned, many thinkers since 
the Enlightenment have believed that everything is possible for a 
science of society. Rousseau, Marx, Owens — the whole school of 
utopian socialists and still today modem revolutionaries in all con- 
tinents believe this. All we have to do, they claim, is to change the 
structure of things and a new society will emerge like a splendid 
phoenix free of all impurity and evil, because evil lies not in the 
hearts of men but in the social arrangements that men take for 
granted. Men forget, wrote the medieval Arab historian Ibn Khal- 
dun, how things were in the beginning, free and equal under 
tribalism; they grow up under the new system of kingship and the 
state and so they imagine that things were always this way and 


Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society? 147 

they accept them without complaint. Marx repeated the identical 
thesis centuries later: men live abased under tyranny and self- 
delusion because they no longer understand the conditions of 
natiuiral freedom. Revolutionaries still today trumpet this philosophy 
of history as the fall of pure men into corrupt social structures. 

The reason the philosophy is so attractive is that men need hopes 
and! ideals to urge them on — they need possibility, belief in them- 
selves in order to even try to make things better. All truths are 
part -truths as far as creatures are concerned, and so there is nothing 
wromg with an illusion that is creative. Up to a point, of course: 
the point at which the illusion lies about something very important, 
such as human nature. If it is false to that, then it becomes oppres- 
sive, because if you try falsely to make a new beginning you fail. 
I know that this bit of wisdom is already stale to our epoch, but 
evenn in its staleness we can’t let go of it. We still live in its 
shaidow: the state tyranny of Soviet Russia is the steady, daily, 
empirical reminder of the costs of ignoring the psychology of man. 
Mavrxism in its traditional form is simply not a correct guide for a 
new society. But the irony is that we simply do not know what to 
do with this stale truth. That is why there is such a crisis in Marxist 
thoiught, in leftist-humanist thought. What is a truly mature, 
sophisticated Marxism? And if we put such a thing together, where 
does it point on the problems of society? Does the union of Marx 
and Freud eclipse the Enlightenment vision for a science of society? 
If riot, what kind of science can we imagine and work toward? 
Th«:se are the vital, aching questions of the contemporary scientific 
conscience; what kind of answers does our present knowledge 


Well, for one thing — one great thing — we now see history as it 
rea’ily has been in terms of overall psychodynamics. From the out- 
sidle a saga of tyranny, violence, coercion; from the inside, self- 
delusion and self-enslavement. From earliest times men asked to be 
mystified, and right away there were those ready to fill the role. 


Men put on the chains imposed by the powers of dead ancestors, 
then shamans, priests, divine kings, heads of state. Today we under- 
stand the inner dynamics of this long history of self-abasement: 
men need transference in order to be able to stand life. Man im- 
munizes himself against terror by controlling his fascination, by 
localizing it and developing working responses toward the sources 
of it. The result is that he becomes a reflex of small terrors and 
small fascinations in place of overwhelming ones. It is a forced 
and necessary barter: the exchange of unfreedom for life. From 
this point of view history is the career of a frightened animal who 
has to deaden himself against life in order to live. And it is this 
very deadening that takes such a toll of others’ lives. 

All organisms want to perpetuate themselves, continue to ex- 
perience and to live. It is a great mystery that we don’t under- 
stand but observe every day: we are amazed, as we try to club 
a cornered rat, how frantically he wants to live. All animals are 
this frantic, without even knowing what death means; they probably 
onlv sense the danger of crushing opposing power; this is as far 
as the “instinct of self-preservation” takes them, out of the way 
of what threatens to overwhelm and engulf them. For all organisms, 
then, opposing and obliterating power is evil — it threatens to stop 
experience. But men are truly sorry creatures because they have 
made death conscious. They can see evil in anything that wounds 
them, causes ill health, or even deprives them of pleasure. Con- 
sciousness means too that they have to be preoccupied with evil 
even in the absence of any immediate danger; their lives become a 
meditation on evil and a planned venture for controlling it and 
forestalling it. 

The result is one of the great tragedies of human existence, what 
we might call the need to “fetishize evil,” to locate the threat to 
life in some special places where it can be placated and controlled. 
It is tragic precisely because it is sometimes very arbitrary: men 
make fantasies about evil, see it in the wrong places, and destroy 
themselves and others by uselessly thrashing about. This is the 
great moral of Melville’s Moby Dick , the specific tragedy of a man 
driven to confine all evil to the person of a white whale . 2 The 
result is that he pulls down around his shoulders the lives of almost 
all those he comes in contact with. 


Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society ? 

A second result of man’s animal vulnerability to death and his 
symbolic consciousness of it is the struggle to get power to fortify 
himself. Other animals must simply use those powers that nature 
provided them with and the neural circuits that animate those 
powers. But man can invent and imagine powers, and he can 
invent ways to protect power. This means, as Nietzsche saw and 
shocked his world with, that all moral categories are power cate- 
gories; they are not about virtue in any abstract sense. Purity, good- 
ness, rightness — these are ways of keeping power intact so as to 
cheat death; the striving for perfection is a way of qualifying for 
extraspecial immunity not only in this world but in others to come. 
Hence all categories of dirt, filth, imperfection, and error are 
vulnerability categories, power problems. For young children 
Band-Aids are already an obsessive religion that sets the whole 
tone of it: cleanliness is safety. 

So we see that as an organism man is fated to perpetuate him- 
self and as a conscious organism he is fated to identify evil as the 
threat to that perpetuation. In the same way, he is driven to in- 
dividuate himself as an organism, to develop his own peculiar 
talents and personality. And what, then, would be the highest 
development and use of those talents? To contribute to the struggle 
against evil, of course. In other words, man is fated, as William 
James saw, to consider this earth as a theater for heroism, and his 
life as a vehicle for heroic acts which aim precisely to transcend 
evil. Each person wants to have his life make a difference in the 
life of mankind, contribute in some way toward securing and 
furthering that life, make it in some ways less vulnerable, more 
durable. To be a true hero is to triumph over disease, want, death. 
One knows that his life has had vital human meaning if it has been 
able to bring real benefits to the life of mankind. And so men have 
always honored their heroes, especially in religion, medicine, 
science, diplomacy, and war. Here is where heroism has been most 
easily identifiable. From Constantine and Christ to Churchill and 
De Gaulle, men have called their heroes “saviors” in the literal 
sense: those who have delivered them from the evil of the termina- 
tion of life, either of their own immediate lives or of the duration 
of their people. Even more, by his own death the hero secures the 
lives of others, and so the greatest heroic sacrifice, as Frazer taught 


! 5 ° 

us, is the sacrifice of the god for his people. We see this in Oedipus 
at Colonus, in Christ, and today in the embalmed Lenin. The giants 
died to secure mankind; by their blood we are saved. It is almost 
pathetically logical how man the supremely vulnerable animal 
developed the cult of the heroic. 

But if we add together the logic of the heroic with the necessary 
fetishization of evil, we get a formula that is no longer pathetic but 
terrifying. It explains almost all by itself why man, of all animals, 
has caused the most devastation on earth — the most real evil. He 
struggles extra hard to be immune to death because he alone is 
conscious of it; but by being able to identify and isolate evil 
arbitrarily, he is capable of lashing out in all directions against 
imagined dangers of this world. This means that in order to live 
he is capable of bringing a large part of the world down around 
his shoulders. History is just such a testimonial to the frightening 
costs of heroism. The hero is the one who can go out and get added 
powers by killing an enemy and taking his talismans or his scalp 
or eating his heart. He becomes a walking repository of accrued 
powers. Animals can only take in food for power; man can literally 
take in the trinkets and bodies of his whole world. Furthermore, 
the hero proves his power by winning in battle; he shows that he 
is favored by the gods. Also, he can appease the gods by offering 
to them the sacrifice of the stranger. The hero is, then, the one who 
accrues power by his acts, and who placates invisible powers by 
his expiations. He kills those who threaten his group, he incorporates 
their powers to further protect his group, he sacrifices others to gain 
immunity for his group. In a word, he becomes a savior through 
blood. From the head-hunting and charm-hunting of the primitives 
to the holocausts of Hitler, the dynamic is the same: the heroic 
victory over evil by a traffic in pure power. And the aim is the 
same: purity, goodness, righteousness — immunity. Hitler Youth were 
recruited on the basis of idealism; the nice boy next door is the one 
who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; the idealistic communist is 
the one who sided with Stalin against his former comrades: kill to 
protect the heroic revolution, to assure the victory over evil. As 
Dostoevsky saw, killing is sometimes distasteful, but the distaste is 
swallowed if it is necessary to true heroism: as one of the revolu- 
tionaries asked Pyotr Verhovensky in The Possessed, when they 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society ? 151 

were about to kill one of their number, “Are other groups also 
doing this?” In other words, is it the socially heroic thing to do, or 
are we being arbitrary about identifying evil? Each person wants 
his life to be a marker for good as his group defines it. Men work 
their programs of heroism according to the standard cultural 
scenarios, from Pontius Pilate through Eichmann and Calley. It is 
as Hegel long ago said: men cause evil out of good intentions, not 
out of wicked ones. Men cause evil by wanting heroically to triumph 
over it, because man is a frightened animal who tries to triumph, 
an animal who will not admit his own insignificance, that he can- 
not perpetuate himself and his group forever, that no one is in- 
vulnerable no matter how much of the blood of others is spilled 
to try to demonstrate it. 

Another way of summing up this whole matter is to contrast 
Hegel’s view of evil out of good intentions with Freud’s view, 
which was very specifically focused on evil motives. Freud saw evil 
as a fatality for man, forever locked in the human breast. This 
is what gave Freud such a dim view of the future of man. Many 
eyes looked to a man of his greatness for a prophecy on human 
possibilities, but he refused to pose as the magician-seer and give 
men the false comfort of prediction. As he put it in a late writing: 

I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, 
and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation. . . . 3 

This is a heavy confession by one of history’s greatest students of 
men; but I am citing it not for its honesty or humility, but because 
of the reason for its pathos. The future of man was problematic 
for Freud because of the instincts that have driven man and will 
supposedly always drive him. As he put it, right after the above 
admission and at the very end of his book: 

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether 
and to what extent [it] . . . will succeed in mastering . . . the human 
instinct of aggression and self-destruction. 

The most that men can seem to do is to put a veneer of civilization 
and reason over this instinct; but the problem of evil is “bom afresh 


with every child,” as Freud wrote three years earlier, in 1927, and 
it takes the form of precise instinctual wishes — incest, lust for 
killing, cannibalism. 4 This was man’s repugnant heritage, a heritage 
that he seems forever destined to work upon the world. Kant’s 
famous observation on man was now not merely a philosophical 
aphorism but a scientific judgment: “From the crooked wood of 
which man is made, nothing quite straight can be built.” 

Yet today we know that Freud was wrong about evil. Man is a 
crooked wood all right, but not in the way that Freud thought. This 
is a crucial difference because it means that we do not have to 
follow Freud on the exact grounds of his feelings for the problematic 
of the human future. If, instead, we follow Rank and the general 
science of man, we get a quite different picture of the oldest 
“instinctual wishes.” Incest is an immortality motive, it symbolizes 
the idea of self-fertilization, as Jung has so well written 5 — the defeat 
of biology and the fatality of species propagation.- For the child in 
the family it may be an identity motive, a way of immediately be- 
coming an individual and stepping out of the collective role of 
obedient child by breaking up the family ideology, as Rank so 
brilliantly argued. 6 Historically, the brother-sister marriage of 
ancient kings like the Pharaohs must have been a way of preserv- 
ing and increasing the precious mana power that the king possessed. 
Cannibalism, it is true, has often been motivated by sheer appetite 
for meat, the pleasures of incorporation of a purely sensual kind, 
quite free of any spiritual overtones. But as just noted, much of 
the time the motive is one of mana power. Which largely explains 
why cannibalism becomes uniformly repugnant to men when the 
spirit-power beliefs that sustained it are left behind; if it were a 
matter of instinctual appetite, it would be more tenacious. And as 
for the lust for killing, this too, we now know, is largely a psycho- 
logical problem; it is not primarily a matter of the satisfaction of 
vicious animal aggression. We know that men often kill with 
appetite and excitement, as well as real dedication, but this is only 
logical for animals who are born hunters and who enjoy the feeling 
of maximizing their organismic powers at the expense of a trapped 
and helpless prey. 

This much evolution and some million years of prehistory may 
have given us; but to talk about satisfying one’s appetites for purity 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society? 153 

and heroism with a certain relish and style is not to say that this 
relish is itself the motive for the appetite. Freud thought it was 
man’s appetite that undid him, but actually it is his animai limita- 
tion as we now understand it. The tragedy of evolution is that it 
created a limited animal with unlimited horizons. Man is the only 
animal that is not armed with the natural instinctive mechanisms or 
programming for shrinking his world down to a size that he can 
automatically act on. This means that men have to artificially and 
arbitrarily restrict their intake of experience and focus their output 
of decisive action. Men have to keep from going mad by biting 
off small pieces of reality which they can get some command over 
and some organismic satisfaction from. This means that their 
noblest passions are played out in the most narrow and unreflective 
ways, and this is what undoes them. From this point of view the 
main problematic for the future of man has to be expressed in the 
following paradox: Man is an animal who must fetishize in order 
to survive and to have “normal mental health.” But this shrinkage 
of vision that permits him to survive also at the same time prevents 
him from having the overall understanding he needs to plan for 
and control the effects of his shrinkage of experience. A paradox 
this bitter sends a chill through all reflective men. If Freud’s 
famous “fateful question for the human species” was not exactly 
the right one, the paradox is no less fateful. It seems that the ex- 
periment of man may well prove to be an evolutionary dead end, an 
impossible animal — one who, individually, needs for healthy action 
the very conduct that, on a general level, is destructive to him. It 
is maddeningly perverse. And even if we bring Freud’s views on 
evil into line with Hegel’s, there is no way of denying that Freud’s 
pessimism about the future is just as securely based, as if man did 
actually have evil motives. 

But it does influence the whole perspective on history which I 
am sketching here. History and its incredible tragedy and drivenness 
then become a record of understandable folly. It is the career of a 
frightened animal who must lie in order to live — or, better, in order 
to live the distinctive style that his nature fits him for. The thing 
that feeds the great destructiveness of history is that men give their 
entire allegiance to their own group; and each group is a codified 
hero system. Which is another way of saying that societies are 



standardized systems of death denial; they give structure to the 
formulas for heroic transcendence. History can then be looked at as 
a succession of immortality ideologies, or as a mixture at any time 
of several of these ideologies. We can ask about any epoch, What 
are the social forms of heroism available? And we can take a sweep 
over history and see how these forms vary and how they animate 
each epoch. For primitive man, who practiced the ritual renewal 
of nature, each person could be a cosmic hero of a quite definite 
kind; he could contribute with his powers and observances to the 
replenishment of cosmic life. Gradually, as societies became more 
complex and differentiated into classes, cosmic heroism became the 
property of special classes like divine kings and the military, who 
were charged with the renewal of nature and the protection of the 
group by means of their own special powers. And so the situation 
developed where men could be heroic only by following orders. Men 
had given the mandate of power and expiation to their leader- 
heroes, and so salvation had to be mediated to them by these 
figures. In a primitive hunting band or a tribe the leader cannot 
compel anyone to go to war; in the kingship and the state the 
subjects have no choice. They now serve in warfare heroism for 
the divine king who provides his own power in victory and bathes 
the survivors in it. With the rise of money coinage one could be a 
money hero and privately protect himself and his offspring by the 
accumulation of visible gold-power. With Christianity something 
new came into the world: the heroism of renunciation of this world 
and the satisfactions of this life, which is why the pagans thought 
Christianity was crazy. It was a sort of antiheroism by an animal 
who denied life in order to deny evil. Buddhism did the same thing 
even more extremely, denying all possible worlds. In modem 
times, with the Enlightenment, began again a new paganism of the 
exploitation and enjoyment of earthly life, partly as a reaction 
against the Christian renunciation of the world. Now a new type of 
productive and scientific hero came into prominence, and we are 
still living this today. More cars produced by Detroit, higher stock- 
market prices, more profits, more goods moving — all this equals 
more heroism. And with the French Revolution another type of 
modern hero was codified: the revolutionary hero who will bring 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society P 155 

an end to injustice and evil once and for all, by bringing into being 
a new utopian society perfect in its purity. 


This is hardly a complete catalogue of culturally codified heroics, 
but it is a good representation of the ideologies that have taken 
such a toll of life; in each of the above examples masses of human 
lives have been piled up in order for the cultural transcendence to 
be achieved. And there is nothing “perverse” about it because it 
represents the expression of the fullest expansive life of the heroic 
animal. We can talk for a century about what causes human aggres- 
sion; we can try to find the springs in animal instincts, or we can 
try to find them in bottled-up hatreds due to frustration or in some 
kind of miscarried experiences of early years, of poor child handling 
and training. All these would be true, but still trivial because men 
kill out of joy, in the experience of expansive transcendence over 
evil. This poses an immense problem for social theory, a problem 
that we have utterly failed to be clear about. If men kill out of 
heroic joy, in what direction do we program for improvements in 
human nature? What are we going to improve if men work evil 
out of the impulse to righteousness and goodness? What kind of 
child-rearing programs are we going to promote — with Fromm, 
Homey, et al. — in order to bring in the humanistic millenium, if 
men are aggressive in order to expand life, if aggression in the 
service of life is man’s highest creative act? If we were to be logical, 
these childhood programs would have to be something that elimi- 
nates joy and heroic self-expansion in order to be effective for 
peace. And how could we ever get controlled child-rearing pro- 
grams without the most oppressive social regulation? 

The cataloguing of maddening dilemmas such as these are, for 
utopian thought, could probably be continued to fill a whole book; 
let me add merely a few more. We know that to be human is to 
be neurotic in some ways and to some degree; there is no way to 
become an adult without serious twisting of one’s perceptions of 



the world. Even more, it is not the especially twisted people who 
are most dangerous: coprophiliacs are harmless, rapists do not do 
the damage to life that idealistic leaders do. Also, leaders are a 
function of the "normal” urges of masses to some large extent; this 
means that even psychically crippled leaders are an expression of 
the widespread urge to heroic transcendence. Dr. Strangelove was 
surely a psychic cripple, but he was not an evil genius who moved 
everyone around him to his will; he was simply one clever computer 
in a vast idealistic program to guarantee the survival of the “free 
world.” Today we are living the grotesque spectacle of the poisoning 
of the earth by the nineteenth-century hero system of unrestrained 
material production. This is perhaps the greatest and most per- 
vasive evil to have emerged in all of history, and it may even 
eventually defeat all of mankind. Still there are no “twisted” people 
whom we can hold responsible for this. 

I know all this is more or less obvious, but it puts our discussion 
on the proper plane; it teaches us one great lesson — a pill that for 
modern man may be the bitterest of all to swallow — namely, that 
we seem to be unable to approach the problem of human evil from 
the side of psychology. Freud, who gave us the ideal of the psycho- 
logical liberation of man, also gave us many glimpses of its limita- 
tions. I am not referring here to his cynicism about what men may 
accomplish because of the perversity of their natures, but rather to 
his admission that there is no dependable line between normal and 
abnormal in affairs of the human world. In the most characteristic 
human activity — love — we see the most distortion of reality. Talking 
about the distortions of transference-love, Freud says: 

... it is to a high degree lacking in regard for reality, is less sensible, 
less concerned about consequences, more blind in its estimation of the 
person loved, than we are willing to admit of normal love. 

And then he is forced to take most of this back, honest thinker 
that he is, by concluding that: 

We should not forget, however, that it is precisely these departures from 
the norm that make up the essential element in the. condition of being 
in love . 7 


Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society P 

In other words, transference is the only ideality that man has. It 
was no news to Freud that the ability to love and to believe is a 
matter of susceptibility to illusion. He prided himself on being a 
stoical scientist who had transcended the props of illusion, yet he 
retained his faith in science — in psychoanalysis — as his particular 
hero system. This is the same as saying that all hero systems are 
based on illusion except one’s own, which is somehow in a special, 
privileged place, as if given in nature herself. Rank got right at the 
heart of Freud’s dilemma: 

Just as he himself could so easily confess his agnosticism while he had 
created for himself a private religion, it seems that, even in his intel- 
lectual and rational achievements, he still had to express and assert his 
irrational needs by at least fighting for and about his rational ideas . 8 

This is perfect. It means that Freud, too, was not exempt from 
the need to fit himself into a scheme of cosmic heroism, an im- 
mortality ideology that had to be taken on faith. This is why Rank 
saw the need to go “beyond psychology”: it cannot by itself sub- 
stitute for a hero system unless it is — as it was for Freud — the hero 
system that guaranteed him immortality. This is the meaning of 
Rank’s critique of psychology as “self-deception.” It cannot contain 
the immortality urge characteristic of life. It is just another ideology 
“which is gradually trying to supplant religious and moral ideology,” 
but “is only partially qualified to do this, because it is a preponder- 
antly negative and disintegrating ideology .” 9 In other words, all 
that psychology has really accomplished is to make the inner life 
the subject matter of science, and in doing this it dissipated the 
idea of the soul. But it was the soul which once linked man’s inner 
life to a transcendent scheme of cosmic heroism. Now the individual 
is stuck with himself and with an inner life that he can only analyze 
away as a product of social conditioning. Psychological introspection 
took cosmic heroics and made them self-reflective and isolated. At 
best it gives the person a new self-acceptance — but this is not what 
man wants or needs: one cannot generate a self-created Hero system 
unless he is mad. Only pure narcissistic megalomania can banish 



It was on the point of guilt, as Rank saw, that Freud’s system 
of heroism fell down. He admonishes Freud with the didactic mock- 
ing of one who possesses a clearly superior conceptualization: 

It is with his therapeutic attempt to remove the guilt by tracing it back 
“causally” to the individual’s experience in childhood that Freud steps 
in. How presumptuous, and at the same time, naive, is this idea of 
simply removing human guilt by explaining it causally as “neurotic ”! 10 

Exactly. Guilt is a reflection of the problem of acting in the 
universe; only partly is it connected to the accidents of one’s birth 
and early experience. Guilt, as the existentialists put it, is the guilt 
of being itself. It reflects the self-conscious animal’s bafflement at 
having emerged from nature, at sticking out too much without 
knowing what for, at not being able to securely place himself in an 
eternal meaning system. How presumptuous of psychology to claim 
to be able to handle a problem of these dimensions. As Progoff has 
so brilliantly summed up psychology after Freud, it all culminates 
once again in a recognition of the magnitude of the problem of 
cosmic heroism . 11 

This is what Adler meant when he summed up in a simplified 
way a basic insight of his whole life’s work, “All neurosis is 
vanity .” 12 Neurosis, in other words, reflects the incapacity of the 
individual to heroically transcend himself; when he tries in one 
way or another, it is plainly vain. We are back again to a famous 
fruit of Rank’s work too, his insight that neurosis “is at bottom 
always only incapacity for illusion .” 13 But we are back to it with a 
vengeance and with the broadest possible contemporary understand- 
ing. Transference represents not only the necessary and inevitable, 
but the most creative distortion of reality. As Buber said, reality 
for man is something he must imagine, search out in the eyes of his 
fellows, with their gleam of passionate dedication. This is also what 
Jung intimates about the vitality of transference when he calls it 
“kinship libido .” 14 This means that men join together their individ- 
ual pulsations in a gamble toward something transcendent. Life 
imagines its own significance and strains to justify its beliefs. It is as 
though the life force itself needed illusion in order to further itself. 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society ? 159 

Logically, then, the ideal creativity for man would strain toward 
the grandest illusion. 

The Science of Man 

Well, obviously, none of this has been unimpeachable to the 
critics over the years. Words like “irrationality,” “illusion,” “wilful 
and heroic dedication” — these rub many people the wrong way. 
They have hardly helped make our world any better, especially in 
modern times. Erich Fromm, for example, impugned Rank’s whole 
system of thought by arguing how perfectly suited it was as a phi- 
losophy for fascists. 15 The essay in which this was done was not an 
essay to bring any credit to Fromm as a thinker; but it was animated 
in part at least by the demonic crisis of the times, by Hitlerism, and 
in spite of its shabbiness it did convey a truth, the need to be wary 
of life-enhancing illusions. 

It is precisely at this point that the science of man comes in. We 
know that Nazism was a viable hero system that lived the illusion 
of the defeat of evil on earth. We know the terrifying dynamic of 
victimage and scapegoating all across history, and we know what it 
means — the offering of the other’s body in order to buy off one’s 
own death, the sadistic formula par excellence: break the bones and 
spill the blood of the victim in the service of some “higher truth” 
that the sacrificers alone possess. To treat the body with the same 
scorn that God seems to treat it is to draw closer to Him. Well, we 
know these things only too well in our time. The problem is what 
to do with them. Men cannot abandon the heroic. If we say that 
the irrational or mythical is part of human groping for transcen- 
dence, we do not give it any blanket approval. But groups of men 
can do what they have always done — argue about heroism, assess 
the costs of it, show that it is self-defeating, a fantasy, a dangerous 
illusion and not one that is life-enhancing and ennobling. 16 As Paul 
Pruyser so well put it, “The great question is; If illusions are needed, 
how can we have those that are capable of correction, and how can 
we have those that will not deteriorate into delusions?” 17 If men 


live in myths and not absolutes, there is nothing we can do or say 
about that. But we can argue for nondestructive myths; this is the 
task of what would be a general science of society.® 

I have argued elsewhere that one very graphic way of looking at 
mental illness is to see it as the laying onto others of one’s own 
hyperfears of life and death. From this perspective we can also see 
that leaders of nations, citizens of so-called democracies, “normal 
men” are also doing the very same thing all the time: laying their 
power-expiation immunity trip onto everyone else. Today the whole 
world is already becoming uncomfortable with the repeated “war 
games” and hvdrogen-bomb tests by nations on power trips, tests 
that lay their danger onto innocent and powerless neighbors. In a 
way it is the drama of the family and the Feifferian love affair writ 
large across the face of the planet, the “family” of nations. There 
are no particular leaders or special councils of elite to blame in 
all this, simply because most people identify with the symbols of 
power and agree to them. The nation offers immortality to all its 
members. Again, Erich Fromm was. wrong to argue that psychically 
crippled people, what he calls “necrophilic characters,” do evil 
things by valuing death over life and so lay waste to life because 
it makes them uncomfortable. Life makes whole nations of normal 
people uncomfortable, and hence the serene accord and abandon 
with which men have defeated themselves all through history. 

This is the great weakness, as we have now discovered, of 
Enlightenment rationalism, the easy hope that by the spread of 
reason men will stand up to their full size and renounce irration- 
ality. The Enlightenment thinkers understood well the dangers of 
the mass mind, and they thought that by the spread of science and 
education all this could change. The great Russian sociologist 
Nikolai Mikhailovsky had already singled out the hero as the enemy 
of democracy, the one who causes others to yield their wills because 
of the safety he offers them . 18 The thing that had to be done was to 
prevent society from turning the individual into a tool for the sake 

* This admission of the need for guiding heroic myths, and at the same time 
the plea to be wary of their costs, reconciles a long-standing argument in 
social theory: the challenge that Georges Sorel threw down in his critique of 
reason as a guide in social life. Social scientists had to admit that Sorel had 
something, yet at the same time they could not admit it, since it seemed to 
leave them no role as the representatives of reason. 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society? 161 

of social efficiency and safety. How could the infringement of in- 
dividuality be overcome? Mikhailovsky answered in the same vein 
as modern humanist psychiatrists: by giving the individual the op- 
portunity for harmonious development. 19 At about the same time 
that other great Enlightenment man, Emerson, made his famous 
plea for self-reliance, for persons with full and independent insides 
so that they could have the stability to withstand herd enthusiasms 
and herd fears. 

This whole tradition was brought up to date by Herbert Marcuse 
in a brilliant essay on the ideology of death. He argued that death 
has always been used by leaders and elites as an ideology to get the 
masses to conform and to yield up their autonomy. Leaders win 
allegiance to the cultural causa sui project because it protects 
against vulnerability. The polis, the state, god — all these are symbols 
of infallibility in which the masses willingly embed their fearful 
freedoms. 20 There we have it: the culmination of the Enlighten- 
ment in a proper focus on the fundamental dynamics of mass 
slavishness. On the highest level of sophistication we know in detail 
what men fear and how they deny that fear. There is a single line 
from Emerson through Mikhailovsky up to Fromm and Marcuse. 

But wait. We said that Enlightenment rationalism was too easy a 
creed, and so we would expect to see this weakness in all its 
thinkers, and Marcuse is no exception when he naively says: 

. . . death [is] the ultimate cause of all anxiety, [and] sustains unfree- 
dom. Man is not free as long as death has not become really “his own,” 
that is, as long as it has not been brought under his autonomy. 21 

Alas, the fact is that men do not have any autonomy under which 
to bring things. This great and fundamental problem for the whole 
career of Enlightenment science was posed by Rank: 

Whether the individual is at all in a position to grow beyond . . . [some 
kind of transference justification, some form of moral dependence] and 
to affirm and accept himself from himself cannot be said. Only in the 
creative type does this seem possible to some extent. . . . 22 

But it can be said, and Rank says it: even the highest, most in- 
dividuated creative type can only manage autonomy to some extent. 

162 escape from evil 

The fact is that men cannot and do not stand on their own powers; 
therefore they cannot make death “their own.” Moral dependence — 
guilt — is a natural motive of the human condition and has to be 
absolved from something beyond oneself. One young revolutionary 
once admonished me in saying that “guilt is not a motive”; he never 
saw that his guilt was absorbed by submission to the revolutionary 
cell. The weakness of the Enlightenment, then, was that it did not 
understand human nature — and it apparently still does not. Mar- 
cuse, in an eloquent line, asks for “the good conscience to be a 
coward,” the uprooting of heroic sublimation . 23 But this is too easy: 
even if men admit they are cowards, they still want to be saved. 
There is no “harmonious development,” no child-rearing program, 
no self-reliance that would take away from men their need for a 
“beyond” on which to base the meaning of their lives. The fallacy 
of vulgar Marxism was that it overlooked the depth and univer- 
sality of the fear of death; Marcuse has remedied this. The other 
fallacy was to fail to see the naturalness of existential guilt — and 
here Marcuse likewise fails. The task of social theory is to show 
how society aggravates and uses natural fears, but there is no way 
to get rid of the fears simply by showing how leaders use them or 
by saying that men must “take them in hand.” Men will still take 
one another’s heads because their own heads stick out and they feel 
exposed and guilty. The task of social theory is not to explain guilt 
away or to absorb it unthinkingly in still another destructive 
ideology, but to neutralize it and give it expression in truly creative 
and life-enhancing ideologies. 

The question we are left with, then, is to whom does one expiate? 
So far as I can see, this is the denouement of the Enlightenment 
quest for a science of society. It will be some combination of 
Marxist critical thought and a tragic dimension, a perspective on the 
inevitabilities of human unfreedom. In this, the science would share 
a place with historical religions: they are all critiques of false per- 
ceptions, of ignoble hero systems. A science of society, in other 
words, will be a study similar to the one envisaged by Old Testa- 
ment prophets, Augustine, Kierkegaard, Max Scheler, William 
Hocking: it will be a critique of idolatry, of the costs of a too narrow 
focus for the dramatization of man’s need for power and expia- 
tion . 24 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society P 163 

As Norman Brown so well summed it up in three brilliant pages, 
thij prophetic function of religion is the same as the function of 
psychoanalysis: the “return of the repressed,” the release from the 
uniconscious of true perceptions of empirical reality in place of the 
wishful cultural and private fantasies we put there. 25 Both religion 
anc’t psychoanalysis show man his basic creatureliness and attempt 
to pull the scales of his sublimations from his eyes. Both religion 
and psychoanalysis have discovered the same source of illusion: the 
fe:»r of death which cripples life. Also religion has the same difficult 
mission as Freud: to overcome the fear of self-knowledge. Self- 
knowledge is the hardest human task because it risks revealing to 
th«e person how his self-esteem was built: on the powers of others 
in order to deny his own creatureliness and death. Character is the 
vital lie that covers over the painful ambiguities of man’s worm- 
godlikeness — the despair of the human condition, the miraculous- 
ness of it tightly interwoven with the stink and decay of it. Beligion 
as unrepression would reveal both truths about man: his wormlike- 
ness as well as his godlikeness. Men deny both in order to live 
tranquilly in the world. Religion overcame this double denial by 
maintaining that for God everything is possible. What seems to 
man to be fixed and determined for all time, beyond human worm- 
like powers, is for God free and open, to do with what He will. 

This gave the possibility of a new heroism, the heroism of saint- 
hood. This meant living in primary awe at the miracle of the created 
object — including oneself in one’s own godlikeness. Remember the 
awesome fascination of St. Francis with the revelations of the every- 
day world — a bird, a flower. It also meant unafraidness of one’s 
own death, because of the incomparable majesty and power of 
God. And so religion overcomes the specific problems of fear- 
stricken animals, while at the same time showing them what empiri- 
cal! reality really is. If we were not fear-stricken animals who re- 
pressed awareness of ourselves and our world, then we would live 
iru peace and unafraid of death, trusting to the Creator God and 
celebrating His creation. The ideal of religious sainthood, like that 
of psychoanalysis, is thus the opening up of perception: this is 
where religion and science meet. 

But I am not saying that the science of society is merged into 
organized religion. Far from it. We know only too well how easily 



traditional religious heroism has given way to the hero systems of 
the secular societies. Today religionists wonder why youth has 
abandoned the churches, not wanting to realize that it is precisely 
because organized religion openly subscribes to a commercial- 
industrial hero system that is almost openly defunct; it so obviously 
denies reality, builds war machines against death, and banishes 
sacredness with bureaucratic dedication. Men are treated as things 
and the world is pulled down to their size. The churches subscribe 
to this empty heroics of possession, display, manipulation. I think 
that today Christianity is in trouble not because its myths are dead, 
but because it does not offer its ideal of heroic sainthood as an im- 
mediate personal one to be lived by all believers. In a perverse way, 
the churches have turned their backs both on the miraculousness of 
creation and on the need to do something heroic in this world. The 
early promise of Christianity was to bring about once and for all the 
social justice that the ancient world was crying for; Christianity 
never fulfilled this promise, and is as far away from it today as ever. 
No wonder it has trouble being taken seriously as a hero system . 26 
Even worse, as they have done all through history the churches 
still bless unheroic wars and sanctify group hatred and victimage. 
It is an age-old story known to all, so there is no point in lingering 
on it. But these kinds of betrayal of an ideal heroism seem to be 
more and more obvious to today’s youth. They are even becoming 
obvious to the organized religions themselves, which are wondering 
how to divorce themselves from defunct hero systems and recapture 
the imaginations and the heroic impulses that are stifled in the 
youth. One way, of course, is by a reaffirmation of traditional 
evangelism, which still seems to offer a way to overcome exag- 
gerated fears of life and death by heroic dedication to special 
purity and worthiness. There is no easy way out of the dilemma, as 
Tillich and others have so well written; organized society seems to 
represent a necessary denial of religious heroism. In the United 
States today courageous priests like Daniel Berrigan are again 
proving this truth: that society will move against religious sainthood 
( heroism ) when it poses a threat to its own system of heroic 
apotheosis, no matter how self-defeating and immoral that system 
has become. 

Also, if we say that the science of society is partly immersed in 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society? 165 

a tragic perspective, this should not give any comfort to dogmatic 
conservatives. Man simply cannot accept human limitations as 
inevitable in the scheme of things. If we talk about the “Devil” 
side of human nature and about man’s depravity, we cannot be 
fatalistic or cynical about them. If we are skeptical about utopia and 
acknowledge the Devil, it is only the better to fight for the angel 
side. Today there is a real onslaught of intellectual conservatism, re- 
cruiting some of our best thinkers and trying very adroitly to dis- 
credit leftist thought. It is all right to glorify thinkers like Edmund 
Burke and to offer profound theological and philosophical com- 
mentaries on the tragedies of the human condition, on the follies 
of history, on the natural limitations of man. 27 But this is not 
offered as a corrective, but as a substitute for social action, for 
the achievement of social justice, as an apologetic for the system as 
it is, for a traditional herd patriotism. This is what makes most 
“intellectual and moral conservatism” today fundamentally dis- 
honest and hypocritical. 

I agree that Marxism in its own dogmatic form has to be richly 
supplemented by a psychology that shows how men welcome un- 
freedom and how the basic motives of human nature remain un- 
changed. But I also know that differences in talent are not so 
biological or hereditary as conservatives often want to make out. 
Nor is freedom to obey and to delegate one’s powers as free as 
they like to imagine. Sure, society goes on because of a silent 
accord by the majority that they prefer structure to chaos, and are 
willing to be lulled to sleep because of the security and ease it offers 
them. But it also holds over their heads the ideology of death, 
power, immortality — just as shamans and kings once did — and 
dominates them with it. The sophisticated Marxian question has to 
be asked in each society and in each epoch: how do we get rid 
of the power to mystify? The talents and the processes of mesmeriza- 
tion and mystification have to be exposed. Which is another way 
of saying that we have to work against both structural and psycho- 
logical unfreedom in society. The task of science would be to 
expose both of these dimensions. 

One of the reasons for our present disillusionment with theory 
in the social sciences is that it has done very little in this liberating 
direction. Even those intelligent social scientists who attempt a 



necessary balance between conservative and Marxist perspectives 
are amiss in this. If we read the last three pages of Gerhard Lenski’s 
important book Power and Privilege, we get a vista of the future — 
but it is such a slow, patient, scientific future, still unrelated to the 
pressing problems of an insane world. All he seems to want to 
present us with is an indefinite program extending far into the un- 
known future, devoted to patient checking, refining, extending the 
blend of conservatism and Marxism. I am hardly saying that social 
theory should stop dead and not be perfected; what I am saying 
is that a general critical science of society that unites the best of 
both wings of thought is a present reality, and need not be delayed. 
We have, as of today, a powerful critique of hero systems, of 
systems of death denial and the toll that they take. It is a toll of un- 
fulfilled life based on a continuing denial of social justice; it is a 
toll of internal victimage based on the inequality of social classes 
and the state repression of freedom; it is a toll of external victimage 
that helps siphon off internal social discontent and transform 
magically social problems into military adventures. Whatever form 
of government uses victimage, the use is still the same: to purify 
evil social arrangements, distract attention from the failure to solve 
internal problems. Scientists must expose these things from their 
own scientific forums. In science, as in authentic religion, there is 
no easy refuge for empty-headed patriotism, or for putting off to 
some future date the exposure of large-scale social lies. 

I don’t see why conservatives and radicals could not unite on such 
a science, if their sentiments are where their words are. Both 
believe in free public information, increasing the awareness of the 
masses as well as their responsibility. Both wings of thought agree 
on limiting the authority of the leaders, exposing their talents for 
mesmerization and their shortcomings. This is, after all, the dearest 
and grandest feature of a democracy, that it tries to keep these 
critical functions alive. The problem has always been that the 
leader is the one who usually is the grandest patriot, which means 
the one who embraces the ongoing system of death denial with the 
heartiest hug, the hottest tears, and the least critical distance. As 
Zilboorg pointed out so penetratingly, the leader lives with his head 
full into the clouds of the cultural symbols; he lives in an abstract 
world, a world detached from concrete realities of hunger, suffer- 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society? 167 

ing, death; his feet are off the ground, he carries out his duties 
much like funeral directors and men who perform autopsies or 
executions — in a kind of emotional and psychological divorce from 
the realities of what he is doing. 28 The result is that the leader is 
actually in a state of limited responsibility to human beings in this 
world — and what power he has in this state! The whole thing 
is lopsided and rather eerie — like compulsive neurosis or psychosis, 
says Zilboorg. Words, symbols, shadowboxing — no wonder so much 
pulsating life is so serenely ground up by the nation-states. 

It is all too true, alas, but we do not live in an ideal world. If we 
wanted to imagine such a world, give in to utopian fantasies, we 
already know what we would want our leaders to be like: persons 
who abstracted and objected least, who took each single life and its 
suffering full in the face as it is. Which is another way of saying 
that they would know the reality of death as a primary problem. We 
might even let our musings go wild while we are at it, and imagine 
that we would choose leaders for exactly this quality: that they 
themselves were conscious of their own fear of life and death, and 
of the cultural system as a way of heroic transcendence — but a way 
that is not absolute, that is relative and not timeless. This might be 
another way of saying that we would want our leaders to be “well- 
analyzed” men, except that even the best analysis does not guaran- 
tee to produce this level of self-conscious, tragic sophistication. 

Yet, democracy does encroach on utopia a little bit, because it 
already addresses itself to the problem of mystification by free 
flow of self-criticism. We could carry 'the utopian musings further 
and say that the gauge of a truly free society would be the extent 
to which it admitted its own central fear of death and questioned 
its own system of heroic transcendence — and this is precisely what 
democracy is doing much of the time. This is why authoritarians 
always scoff at it: it seems ridiculously intent on discrediting itself. 
The free flow of criticism, satire, art, and science is a continuous 
attack on the cultural fiction — which is why totalitarians from Plato 
to Mao have to control these things, as has long been known. If we 
look at the denouement of psychiatry and social science today, they 
represent a fairly thorough self-revelation of the fictional nature of 
human meanings — and nothing is theoretically more powerfully 
liberating than that. Lifton has even detected self-mockery and 



caricature as peculiar signs of a new type of modern man who is 
attempting to transcend the horror and absurdity of his cultural 

world. 2 '-* 


If I wanted to give in weakly to the most utopian fantasy I know, 
it would be one that pictures a world-scientific body composed of 
leading minds in all fields, working under an agreed general theory 
of human unhappiness. They would reveal to mankind the reasons 
for its self-created unhappiness and self-induced defeat; they would 
explain how each society is a hero system which embodies in itself 
a dramatization of power and expiation; how this is at once its 
peculiar beauty and its destructive demonism; how men defeat 
themselves by trying to bring absolute purity and goodness into the 
world. They would argue and propagandize for the nonabsoluteness 
of the many different hero systems in the family of nations, and 
make public a continuing assessment of the costs of mankind’s im- 
possible aims and paradoxes: how a given society is trying too hard 
to get rid of guilt and the terror of death by laying its trip on a 
neighbor. Then men might struggle, even in anguish, to come to 
terms with themselves and their world. 

Yet I know that this is a fantasy; I can imagine how popular 
and influential such a body would be on the planet; it would be the 
perfect scapegoat for all nations. And so, like a true Enlightenment 
dreamer, now supposedly sobered by experience, I turn my gaze 
to the stars and imagine how wiser visitors from some other planet 
would admire such a world-scientific body. But nothing, then, 
changes: must we scientists still despair of the masses of men and 
forever turn our yearnings to the Fredericks and the Catherines — 
but now in outer-space garb? Or perhaps, like the monks in Walter 
Miller’s great science-fiction tale A Canticle for Leibowitz, we 
should rocket our carefully shepherded manuscripts from this planet 
to another; and when that one, too, falls into ashes for having 
ignored the wisdom about evil that we have so painfully compiled, 
rocket them still again to another world — a sort of eternal pilgrim- 

Retrospect and Conclusion: What Is the Heroic Society ? 169 

age into space, looking for a place where men will finally take com- 
mand of their drivenness. 

Fortunately, no one mind can pose as an authority on the future; 
the manifold of events is so complex that it is fraud for the intel- 
lectual to want to be taken seriously as prophet, either in his 
fantasies or in his realities. One of the last thoughts of the great 
Williams James was that when all is said and done there is no 
advice to be given. And if a man of Freud’s stature shrank back 
before prophecy, I surely am not going to peep any note of it at 
all. When we throw a wide net over the seething planet we have 
to admit that there is really nothing anyone can say about the 
possibilities for man; thinkers who have understood human nature 
and could take in the largest picture of history and tragedy have 
always shrunk back and shook their heads. Yet I think that there is 
a solid minimum achievement. If we can’t go much beyond Freud’s 
pessimism, at least we have subjected it to an empirical scientific 
statement — something that Freud did not satisfactorily do. 

It seems to me that this leaves a margin for reason in the affairs 
of men. If men kill out of animal fears, then conceivably fears can 
always be examined and calmed; but if men kill out of lust, then 
butchei'y is a fatality for all time. The writer Elie Wiesel, who 
survived a Nazi concentration camp, summed it all up in a wistful 
remark during a TV interview: “Man is not human.” But it is one 
thing to say that man is not human because he is a vicious animal, 
and another to say that it is because he is a frightened creature 
who tries to secure a victory over his limitations. Melville’s moral 
in Billy Budd was that men need desperately to make panic look 
like reason. So it is the disguise of panic that makes men live in 
ugliness, and not the natural animal wallowing. It seems to me 
that this means that evil itself is now amenable to critical analysis 
and, conceivably, to the sway of reason. Freud speculated that it 
was possible that cultural developments might lie ahead which 
might make it possible even to renounce age-old instinctual satis- 
factions. 30 It is even easier to speculate about cultural developments 
that might influence the fear of death and the forms of heroism, and 
so blunt the terrible destructiveness that they have caused. 

This is truly the great gain of post-Freudian thought; it gives us 
a merger of science and tragedy on a sophisticated level, one where 



science does not drop out of the picture. We surely will never be 
able to do great things with our condition on this planet, but we 
can again throw something solid into the balance of irrationalism. 
When all is said and done about the failure of thought to influence 
man’s fate, we have already witnessed great things in our time: 
Marxism has already had an enormous influence for human survival: 
it stopped Hitler in Russia, and it eliminated the gratuitous and 
age-old miseries of the most numerous people on earth. We have 
no way of knowing what gain will come out of Freudian thought 
when it is finally assimilated in its tragic and true meanings. Per- 
haps it will introduce just that minute measure of reason to 
balance destruction. 


Note: The works of A. M. Hocart and Otto Rank are mentioned frequently 
throughout, so that they have been abbreviated in the references as follows: 

A. M. Hocart 

SO Social Origins (London: Watts, 1954), foreword by Lord Raglan. 

KC Kings and Councillors, 1936 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 

1970 ) , ed. Rodney Needham. 

K Kingship, 1927 (London: Oxford University Press, 1969). 

PM The Progress of Man ( London: Oxford University Press, 1933). 

LGM The Life-giving Myth (London: Methuen, 1952), ed. Lord Raglan. 

Otto Rank 

PS Psychology and the Soul, 1931 (New York: Perpetua Books edition, 

ME Modern Education: A Critique of its Fundamental Ideas (New York: 
Knopf, 1932). 

WT Will Therapy and Truth and Reality, 1936 (New York: Knopf, 1945, 
one-volume edition ) . 

BP Beyond Psychology, 1941 (New York: Dover Books, 1958). 

AA Art and Artist, 1932 (New York: Agathon Press, 1968). 

Norman O. Brown’s frequently cited Life against Death: The Psychoanalyti- 
cal Meaning of History (New York: Viking, 1959) is abbreviated as LAD. 


1. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: 
Mentor, 1958), pp. 137-138. 


1. Rank, PS, pp. 143-145. 

2. Leo Tolstoy, A Confession, 1882 (London: Oxford University Press, 
1961 edition), p. 24. 

3. Rank, BP, p. 208. 

4. Ibid., p. 63. 

5. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: The Free Press, 



Chapter One 

1. Hocart, SO, p. 87. 

2. Hocart, P\l, p. 133. 

3. Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 
1959), pp. 44 ff. 

4. Hocart, K, p. 201. 

5. Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic 
Books) 1963), pp. 132 ff., and The Savage Mind (London: Weiden- 
feld and Nicolson, 1966). 

6. }. Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 1950 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960), 
p. 53. 

7. Hocart, KC, pp. 289-290. 

8. Ibid., pp. 37, 290. 

9. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 119. 

10. Helmut Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, 1969 (New 
York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), p. 86. 

11. Alan Harrington, The lmmortalist (New York: Random House, 1969), 
p. 115. 

12. Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual (New York: Doubleday Anchor 
Books, 1967); The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York; 
Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959). 

13. Hocart, KC, pp. 285-286. 

14. Robert Hertz, Death and the Right Hand (New York: The Free 
Press, 1960). 

15. Hocart, K, p. 198. 

16. Rank, AA; see especially chaps. 5-10. See also G. Van der Leeuw, 
Religion in Essence and Manifestation (New York: Harper Torch- 
books, 1963), and Eliade, Cosmos and History. 

17. Hocart, SO, pp. 92 ff. 

18. Ibid., p. 21; K, pp. 25, 152. 

19. Hocart, K, pp. 190 ff. 

20. Ibid., pp. 199 ff. 

21. Ibid., pp. 201-202, 224. 

22. Hocart, PM, p. 133. 

23. Hocart, K, p. 243. 

24. Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind. 

25. Becker, The Denial of Death. 

26. Hocart, KC, pp. 53-54. 

27. Hocart, SO, p. 35. 



Chapter Two 

1. Brown, LAD. 

2. Geza Roheim, Psychoanalysis and Anthropology (New York: Inter- 
national Universities Press, 1969). 

3. Brown, LAD, p. 261. 

4. Marcel Mauss, The Gift (Glencoe: The Free Press, 1954). 

5. Brown, LAD, p. 271. 

6. Vander Leeuw, Religion, vol. 2, chap. 50. 

7. Ibid., p. 356. 

8. Hocart, LGM, pp. 102-103. 

9. Geza Roheim, “The Evolution of Culture,” International Journal of 
Psychoanalysis, 1934, 15:401. 

10. Brown, LAD, p. 269. 

11. Ibid., p. 268. 

12. Ibid. 

13. Rank, WT, p. 87. 

14. Cf. Paul Tillich’s discussion of the “ambiguities of life” in Systematic 
Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), vol. 3. 

15. A. J. Levin, “The Fiction of the Death Instinct,” Psychiatric Quar- 
terly, 1951, 25:269. 

16. Cf. H. H. Turney-High, Primitive War: Its Practice and Concepts 
(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), pp. 196-204. 

17. Levin, “The Fiction of the Death Instinct,” p. 268, expanding an 
idea of J. C. Moloney’s The Magic Cloak (Wakefield, Mass.: Mon- 
trose Press, 1949), p. 213. 

18. Brown, LAD, pp. 265-266. 

19. Ibid., p. 280. 

20. Cf. Van der Leeuw, Religion, vol. 2, pp. 463 ff. 

21. Ibid., pp. 468—169. 

Chapter Three 

1. Brown, LAD, p. 252. 

2. Claude Levi-Strauss, A World on the Wane (London: Hutchinson & 
Co., 1961). 


3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, 1755 (New 
York: St. Martin’s, 1964), ed. R. D. Masters. 

4. Brown, LAD, p. 242. 

5. Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, p. 141. 

6. Ibid., p. 174. 

7. Ibid., p. 149. 

8. W. C. Lehman, Adam Ferguson and the Beginnings of Modem 
Sociology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1930), pp. 82 ff. 

9. G. Landtmann, Origin of the Inequality of the Social Classes (Chi- 
cago: University of Chicago Press, 1938), chap. 3. 

10. Ibid., p. 54. 

11. Ibid., pp. 55 ff. 

12. Morton H. Fried, The Evolution of Political Society (New York: 
Random House, 1967), especially pp. 182 ff. 

13. Rank, ME, p. 13. 

14. Rank, BP, p. 103. 

15. Robert H. Lowie, Lowie’s Selected Papers in Anthropology (Berke- 
ley: University of California Press, 1960), in Cora Du Bois, ed., 
pp. 279 ff. 

16. Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, 1651 (New York: Liberal Arts, 
1958), chap. 11. 

17. Cf. M. Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (New 
York: Pantheon, 1964). 

18. P. Radin, The World of Primitive Man (New York: Grove Press, 
1960), p. 140. 

19. Ibid., chap. 7. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Lehman, Adam Ferguson and the Beginnings of Modern Sociology, 
pp. 113 ff. 

22. Brown, LAD, pp. 251-252. 

23. Ibid., p. 252. 

24. G. Lenski, Power and Privilege (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 
p. 105. 

Chapter Four 

1. Radin, The World of Primitive Man, pp. 213 ff. 

2. Fried, The Evolution of Political Society, pp. 117-118. 



3. Hocart, KC, p. 138. 

4. Ibid., p. 134. 

5. Ibid., pp. 134, 206. 

6. Hocart, K, p. 209. 

7. Ibid., p. 41. 

8. Ibid., p. 45. 

9. Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Harper 
Torchbooks, 1961), pp. 56-57. 

10. Hocart, KC, p. 203. 

11. Ibid., p. 154. 

12. Ibid., p. 139. 

13. Ibid., p. 153. 

14. Robert H. Lowie, “Some Aspects of Political Organization amon 6 
the American Aborigines,” in Cora Du Bois, ed., Lowie’ s Selected 
Papers in Anthropology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1960), chap. 21; Radin, The World of Primitive Man, pp. 214-215. 

15. Fried, The Evolution of Political Society, p. 180. 

16. Cf. Roheim, “The Evolution of Culture,” p. 402. 

17. Hocart, PM, p. 237. 

Chapter Five 

1. Karl Lamprecht, What Is History? (New York: Macmillan, 1905), 
p. 29. 

2. Rank, PS, p. 87. 

3. Brown, LAD, p. 285. 

4. Rank, PS, p. 18. 

5. Ibid., p. 38; cf. Emile Durkheim, Incest: The Nature and Origin of 
the Taboo, 1897 (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1963), p. 109. 

6. Cf. F. M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, 1912 (New York: 
Harper Torchbooks, 1957), p. 109. 

7. Rank, BP, p. 126. 

8. Ibid., p. 125. 

9. A. Moret and G. Davy, From Clan to Empire (New York: Knopf, 
1926), p. 360. 

10. Cf. “Religion, Magic and Morale,” in Douglas G. Haring, ed., Japan’s 
Prospect (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1946), chap. 7. 

11. Rank, BP, pp. 162 ff. 



12. Ibid., p. 135. 

13. Ibid., p. 128. 

14. Ibid., p. 127. 

15. Ibid., p. 128. 

Chapter Six 

1. Brown, LAD, pp. 127-128. 

2. Ibid., p. 248. 

3. Ibid., p. 283. 

4. Ibid., p. 286. 

5. Ibid., pp. 279, 281, 283. 

6 . Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pol- 
lution and Taboo (British Penguin Books, 1966), pp. 85-86. 

7. Brown, LAD, p. 247. 

8 . Cf. Landtmann, Origin of the Inequality of the Social Classes, pp. 

9. G. E. Smith, Human History (New York, 1929), as quoted in S. A. 
Coblentz, Avarice: A History (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 
1965), p. 24. 

10. Hocart, LGM, p. 99. 

11. Brown, LAD, p. 247. 

12. Hocart, LGM, p. 101. 

13. Roheim, “The Evolution of Culture,” p. 402. 

14. Hocart, LGM, p. 103. 

15. O. Spengler, The Decline of the West (New York: Knopf, 1939, 
one-volume edition), p. 489. 

16. Brown, LAD, pp. 246, 248. 

17. Ibid., p. 251. 

18. Ibid., p. 295. 

19. Ibid., pp. 289-293. 

20. P. Tempels, Bantu Philosophy (Paris: Presence Africaine, 1959), 

p. 118. 

21. Rank, BP, p. 128. 

22. Brown, LAD, p. 215. 

23. On the symbolic role of money in recent American life, see Hugh 
Duncan’s excellent little chapter “Money as a Form of Transcendence 

References 177 

in American Life,” in his Communication and Social Order (New 
York: Bedminster Press, 1962), chap. 26. 

24. Ibid., p. 278. 

25. Ibid., p. 279. 

26. G. Heard, The Ascent of Humanity: An Essay on the Evolution of 
Civilization from Group Consciousness through Individuality to 
Super-Consciousness (London: Jonathan Cape, 1929), p. 71, note 5. 

27. Brown, LAD, p. 272. 

28. Ibid., pp. 280, 283. 

Chapter Seven 

1. Rank, BP, pp. 58-59. 

2. Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1933 (New York: 
Farrar, Straus, 1970), pp. 334 ff. 

3. Ibid., p. 339. 

4. Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic (London: Hod- 
der & Stoughton, 1969), p. 40. 

5. Carl Jung, “After the Catastrophe,” Collected Works, vol. 10 (Prince- 
ton, N.J.: Bollingen, 1970), p. 203. 

6 . Ibid. 

7. Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, p. 50. 

8 . Jung, “After the Catastrophe,” p. 216. 

Chapter Eight 

1. Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power (London: Gollancz, 1962), p. 448. 

2. J. J. Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of In- 
equality among Men,” in The First and Second Discourses, 1755 
(New York: St. Martin’s, 1964), ed. R. D. Masters, p. 161. 

3. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human 
Development (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966). 

4. Ibid., p. 226. 

5. Ibid., pp. 220-221. 

6 . Ibid., pp. 58, 116, 218, 226 ff. 

7. Ibid., pp. 149-150, 308. 

8 . Cf., for example, Georges Gusdorf, L’Experience humaine du sacri- 
fice (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948); Louis Bouyer, 



Rite and Man: Natural Sacredness and Christian Liturgy (Notre 
Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963); H. Hubert and 
M. Mauss, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, 1898 (Chicago: Uni- 
versity of Chicago Press, 1964); Van der Leeuw, Religion, vol. 2, 
chap. 50. 

9. Mumford, The Myth of the Machine, pp. 185-186. 

10. See H. Marcuse, “The Ideology of Death, in H. Feifel, ed., The 
Meaning of Death (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), p. 75, for a 
similar, powerful observation. 

11. This is from Hubert and Mauss, Sacrifice, and Van der Leeuw, 
Religion, vol. 2, p. 356. 

12. Leo Alexander, “Sociopsychologic Structure of the SS,” Archives of 
Neurology and Psychiatry, 1948, 59:626. 

13. Cf. Turney-High, Primitive War, pp. 189 ff. This is at odds with 
Mumford’s hypothesis in Myth of the Machine, p. 218. 

14. Cf. Canetti, Crowds and Power, pp. 139-140. 

15. J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), p. 91. 

16. Canetti, Crowds and Power, p. 228. 

17. Ibid., p. 230. 

18. Cf. G. Landtmann, Origin of the Inequality of Social Classes, pp. 
42 ff. 

19. Vancouver Sun, British Columbia, Canada, Oct. 15, 1971. 

20. Rank, WT, p. 130. 

21. Freud, “Thought for the Times on War and Death” and “Why 
War?” Collected Papers, 1932 (New York: Basic Books, 1959), vols. 
4 and 5. 

22. Freud, “Thought for the Times on War and Death,” vol. 4, p. 314. 

23. Harrington, The Immortalist, p. 49. 

24. Cf. Canetti’s interesting insight on Domitian’s way of experiencing 
the very process of survival in Crowds and Power, p. 234. 

25. Ibid., pp. 138-140. 

26. Rank, PS, pp. 73-74; my emphasis. 

27. J. Scher, “Death: The Giver of Life,” in H. M. Ruitenbeek, ed.. 
Death: Interpretations (New York: Delta Books, 1969), pp. 103-104. 

28. G. Zilboorg, “Fear of Death,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1943, 12:472. 

29. Rank, BP, pp. 40-41. 



30. Harrington, The lmmortalist, pp. 138-139. 

31. Zilboorg, “Fear of Death,” pp. 473-474. 

32. In H. D. Duncan, Communication and Social Order (New York: 
Bedminster Press, 1962), p. 127. 

33. H. D. Duncan, Symbols in Society (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 1968), p. 242; also, Symbols and Social Theory (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 266-267. 

34. Duncan, Communication and Social Order, p. 131. 

35. Quoted in H. Feifel, ed., The Meaning of Death (New York: 
McGraw-Hill, 1965), p. 62. 

36,. Rank, BP, pp. 168-169. 

37. Quoted in Brown, LAD,p. 10. 

38:. Duncan, Communication and Social Order, p. 132. 

39i. Duncan, Symbols in Society, p. 39. 

40. Ibid., pp. 39-40. 

41. Cf. Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle,’ ” The Philoso- 
phy of Literary Form (New York: Vintage Books, 1957). Cf. also 
Duncan, Communication and Social Order, especially chaps. 17 and 
18, and Symbols in Society, chap. 4. 

412. Cf. A. Koestler, Darkness at Noon, and Duncan, Symbols and Social 
Theory, bibliography on p. 304. 

413. Kenneth Burke, in Duncan, Symbols and Social Theory, p. 269; Dun- 
can, Communication and Social Order, p. 127. 

44. R. J. Lifton, Revolutionary Immortality: Mao Tse-tung and the 
Chinese Cultural Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), 
p. 40. 

45. Ibid., p. 81. 

46. Ibid., pp. 68 ff. 

417. Cf. Rank, BP, pp. 40-41. 

418. Lifton, Revolutionary Immortality, pp. 7-8. 

49. Harrington, The lmmortalist, p. 131. 

50. Cf. Brown’s synthesis, LAD, chap. 14. 

54. Lifton, Revolutionary Immortality, p. 25. 

52. Ibid., p. 84. 

53. Duncan, Symbols in Society, chap. 4; Symbols and Social Theory, 
chap. 23. 



54. Harrington, The lmmortalist, p. 64. 

55. Cf. E. Becker, Beyond Alienation (New York: Braziller, 1967), pp. 

56. Cf. J. C. Moloney, The Magic Cloak (Wakefield: Montrose Press, 
1949); Levin, “The Fiction of the Death Instinct”; Marcuse, 
“The Ideology of Death.” 

Chapter Nine 

1. Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, p. 129. 

2. Ibid., p. 149. 

3. Ibid., pp. 179-180. 

4. Ibid., pp. 151, 179. 

5. James Frazer, The New Golden Bough, 1890 (New York: Criterion 
Books, 1959, abridged one-volume edition), ed. T. H. Caster, pp. 
54-60, 223 ff. 

6. G. Heard, The Ascent of Humanity, pp. 68 ff. 

7. E. Canetti, Crowds and Power, pp. 225-278, 411-434. 

8. A. Koestler, “The Urge to Self-destruction,” in A. Tiselius and S. 
Nilsson, eds.. The Place of Value in a World of Facts: Proceedings 
of the Fourteenth Nobel Symposium (New York: Wiley, 1970), pp. 
301-304; also Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine (New York: 
Macmillan, 1967), chap. 15. 

9. E. Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning (New York: The Free 
Press, 1971 edition), p. 172. 

10. Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil 
(New York: Harper & Row, 1964). 

11. See Julius Hecker, Russian Sociology (London: Chapman and Hall, 
1934), pp. 119-120. 

12. Quoted in Lifton, Revolutionary Immortality, epigraph. 

13. See H. H. Turney-High, Primitive War, chaps, eight through ten. 
On unresolved grief as a motive for murder, see Ronald Kuhn’s 
classic study, "The Attempted Murder of a Prostitute,” in Rollo May 
et al., eds.. Existence: a New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychol- 
ogy (New York: Basic Books, 1958). 

14. See Koestler, “Urge to Self-destruction,” p. 302. 

15. K. Lorenz, On Aggression (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 
1966), p. 403. 

References 181 

16. Freud, Croup Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (New York: 
Bantam Books edition, 1965). 

17. Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine, pp. 251-253. 

18. Ibid., p. 234. 

19. Fromm, The Heart of Man, p. 56. 

20. Lenski, Power and Privilege, pp. 441-443. 

21. Ibid., p. 105. 

22. C. Kluckhohn, Navaho Witchcraft (Boston: Beacon Press, 1944), 
pp. 89, 95. 

23. See John G. Kennedy, “Psychosocial Dynamics of Witchcraft Sys- 
tems,” International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 1969, 15:177; note 
also the convolutions on this problem from within psychoanalysis — 
from the Marxian Otto Fenichel to A. Mitscherlich, “Psychoanalysis 
and the Aggression of Large Groups,” International Journal of Psy- 
choanalysis, 1971, 52:161-167. 

24. K. Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle,’ ” pp. 187-188. 

Chapter Ten 

1. P. Ricoeur, Symbolism of Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 
p. 351. 

2. Cf. Charles H. Cook, Jr., “Ahab’s ‘Intolerable Allegory,’” Boston 
University Studies in English, 1955-1956, 1:45-52. 

3. Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929 (London: Hogarth, 
1969) , p. 82. 

4. Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 1927 (New York: Doubleday 
Anchor Books, 1964), p. 12. 

5. Jung, Transference (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 
1969), p. 56. 

6. Rank, ME, p. 200. 

7. Freud, “Observations on Transference-Love,” Collected Papers, 1915 
(New York: Basic Books, 1959), vol. 2, p. 388. 

8. Rank, BP, p. 272. 

9. Rank, PS, p. 192. 

10. Rank, BP, p. 273. 

11. Cf. I. Progoff, The Death and Rebirth of Psychology (New York: 
Dell, 1956), p. 262. 

12. Quoted in ibid., p. 81. 



13. Rank, WT, p. 253. 

14. Jung, Transference, pp. 71-72. 

15. Fromm, “The Social Philosophy of ‘Will Therapy,’ ” Psychiatry, 1939, 

16. Cf. Rank’s balanced view, BP, p. 15. 

17. P. Pruyser, A Dynamic Psychology of Religion (New York: Harper & 
Row, 1968), p. 8. 

18. This thesis has been worked on by several writers — most recently, I 
think, by Sidney Hook, The Hero in History (Boston: Beacon Press, 

19. Julius Hecker, Russian Sociology (London: Chapman & Hall, 1934), 
pp. 119-120. 

20. Marcuse, “The Ideology of Death,” chap. 5. 

21. Ibid., p. 74. 

22. Rank, ME, p. 232; my emphasis. 

23. Marcuse, “The Ideology of Death,” p. 72. 

24. Cf. also Rank, WT, p. 62; Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusion 
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1962), pp. 56 ff.; William F. Lynch, 
Images of Hope (New York: Omega Books, 1965). 

25. Brown, LAD, pp. 231-233. 

26. Cf. Rank, BP, p. 128. 

27. See The Intercollegiate Review: A Journal of Scholarship and 

28. G. Zilboorg, “Authority and Leadership,” Bulletin of the World 
Federation of Mental Health, 1950, 2:13-17. 

29. Lifton, “Protean Man,” Partisan Review, Winter, 1968, 13-27. 

30. Freud, The Future of an Illusion, p. 13. 


Adler, Alfred, on neurosis as vanity, 


as a creative act, 155 
as heroic triumph over evil, 138- 

and self-perpetuation, 107 

and rise of patriarchal family, 66 
and rise of priests, 67 
(See also State) 

Alexander, Leo, on SS and heathen 
concept, 103 
Alice Cooper, 14 
Anality, 32, 116 

Arendt, Hannah, on Eichmann, 121— 
122, 134 

Art and Artist (Rank), 60w. 

Bantu, detribalization of, 83n. 
Berrigan, Daniel, 164 
Billu Budd (Melville), 169 
Bridge on the River Kuiai, The (film), 

Brown, Norman O., 38, 40, 63, 73-76, 


economics as sacred, 28 
on guilt, 90 

money as denial of anality, 82 
psychoanalysis and religion, 163- 

society as shared guilt, 32, 35-36 
Buber, Martin, 138, 158 
Buchenwald, as result of massive 
mystification, 117 
Burke, Edmund, 128, 165 
Burke, Kenneth, 118, 144-145 
civic enactment of redemption 
through victim, as universal 
motive, 114-115 

Calvinism, compared with primitive 
religion, 31-32 

Camus, Albert, 145 
Canetti, Elias, 2, 96, 106n., 132 
Cannibalism, 152 
as incorporation of spiritual and 
physical energy, 108 
Sergeant Danh Hun in Vietnam 
and, 108 

Canticle for Leibouiitz, A (Miller), 

Causa sui project, 82, 88-89, 122-123, 
125, 161 

Child, alertness to power sources, 46 
China, reliving idea of the primitive 
group soul, 119 
Chinese Yin and Yang, 9 
crisis in, 164 

primitive, as threat to commercial- 
ism and communism, 86 
promise of universal democratic 
equality 68-69, 86 
unfulfilled promise of, 70-72, 88, 

Coins, sacred origins of, 79-80 
Crucifixion, as controlled display of 
dying, 110 

as antidote to terror, 92 
as immortality he, 121 
religious nature of, 4 
as system of heroic death denial, 

Darwinism, 142-143 

cultural transcendence over, 3 
fear of, exploited by establishments, 

primitive views of, 45 
repression of, 92 

( See also Human condition; Primi- 
tive world) 

Democracy and utopia, 167 



Denial of Death (Becker), 3 
Devil, historical meaning of, 122-123 
“Discourse on the Origin and Founda- 
tions of Inequality among 
Men” (Rousseau), 33-39, 
Divine cities, 68 
Divine kingship, 53-54, 68, 80 
Dostoevsky, 142 
Douglas, Mary, on money, 75 
Duncan, Hugh D., 124, 134 

dynamics of purity and love in war, 

Economics ( See Primitive world; 
Money ) 

Economy, modem compared with 
primitive, 30-31 
Emerson, self-reliance, 135 
Enlightenment vision; 
hopes for a science of man, 144- 

weakness of, 160-162 
Evolution, tragedy of, 153 
Evolution of inequality; 

classic potlatch, as economic re- 
distribution ritual, 59 
eclipse of communal ritual and 
alienation, 61-62 

from simple sharing to pooling via 
authority figure, 52, 58-60 
primitive preference for visible 
gods, 52-54 

ritual centralization in leader, 56-58 

Farber, Leslie, on envy, 12 
Ferguson, Adam, 48-49 
Food, as original sacred element, 29- 

Frankfurt school, merger of Marx and 
Freud, 39 
Frazer, James: 

heroic sacrifice, 149-150 
primitive mistrust of power figures, 

French Revolution, 71, 128 
Freud, Sigmund: 

compared with Hegel, on evil, 151- 

on sex drive, 65 
on transference-love, 156-157 
twin fears of life and death, 92 

Fried, Morton, 58 
Fromm, Erich: 
on aggression, 140-141 
ideal of autonomy, 135 
versus Rank, 159 

Gift, The (Mauss),27 
God of Israel, 53 
Gods, visible and invisible, 53-55 
Goffman, rvms face-work as mod- 
em ritual 13—16 


as immortality symbol, 73-74 
Keynes on, 78 

G. E. Smith on the origins of valua- 
tion of, 77 
( See also Money ) 

Group Psychology and the Analysis of 
the Ego (Freud), 127 
Group, as representing “big” power, 
Guilt, 16 
of being, 158 

as experience of fear and powerless- 
ness, 36 

and evolution, 34 
inseparable from time, 87 
Kein Ayin-Hara, the evil eye, 34 
magnitude of problem of, 158 
nature of, 32-33 
of possessions, 88 
Rank versus Freud on, 157-158 

Harrington, Alan, 109, 125 
on envy, 12 
on sadism, 113 

on modem mysticism and immor- 
tality, 120, 124 

Heroic self-expansion, two sides of, 

facilitated for the primitive, 31-37, 

and fetishization of evil, 150 
historical catalog of changes in, 

modem, without chances of expia- 
tion, 89 

as transcendence over evil and 
death, 150-154 
( See also Primitive world ) 




as succession of immortality ideolo- 
gies, 25, 64, 154 

as testimonial to costs of heroism, 

as tragic record of repressed guilt, 

Hitler, 106 

and idealism of German youth, 150 
as a psychologist, 115-117, 142 
Hobbes, Thomas: 
on evil, 49 
on power, 45 
Hocart, A. M., 52-54, 62 
money, 78 

necessity of moiety for ritual, 1 1 
primitive ritual as technique for 
controlling life, 6-8 
prosperity as universal ambition, 2 
Homo Ludens (Huizinga), 6 
Hubris, 37, 59 
Huizinga, 10 

primitive life as playful dramatiza- 
tion, 15, 19 
primitive war, 105 
Human condition, 1-4 
disease and death as principal evils 
of, 2-5, 148 

heroism as transcendence over limi- 
tations of, 31 

“instinct of self-preservation” as 
universal, 1-2, 148-149 
paradox of, 3 

religion and culture as what is most 
distinctive about, 3-4 
and results of ethology, 1, 142n. 
Human evil: 

agreement between Freud, Rank, 
Reich, and Jung on causes of, 

basic dynamic of, 91-95 
heroic victory over, 124 
Jung on, 95 

Marxists versus conservatives on 
causes of, 133, 146-147 
Mein Kampf ( Hitler ) , 93 
motivated by joys of heroism, 155 
Neumann on Jung’s symbolisms, 

a psychology of, 135-145 
Rank on, 91-92 

Reich on, 92-94 
and repressed guilt, 90 
Human face, unique in nature, 34—35 

Immortality power: 

of accumulated wealth, 87 
primitive modes of attaining, 6-25 
new historical forms of, 63-66, 82 
Immortality symbols, 65 

Marxists versus conservatives on 
causes of, 128-129, 143-144 
in primitive religion, 43-45 
psychological dimensions of, 143 
psychological motivations for, 40-51 
( See also Evolution of inequality ) 
Ionesco, Eugene, 136 

James, William, 12 
heroism and evil, 149 
Jeffersonian democracy: 
failure of, 72 
and Faustian man, 71-72 

imageless god of, 53 
scapegoating of, 93, 123 
Jung, Carl, 94-95, 158 

Kennedy family as modem mana 
source, 55 


as centralizer of power and ritual, 
56-57, 60 

as a visible god, 53-55 
Kingship (Hocart), 22 
Kluckhohn, Clyde, aggressiveness, 144 
Koestler, Arthur, on aggression, 134, 

Kwakiutl potlatch, 59 

Lamprecht, Karl, 62 
Levi-Strauss, Claude, 9-10, 19n., 23 

Life against Death (Brown), 73 
Lorenz, Konrad, aggression and mass 
enthusiasm, 138, 142 
Lowie, Robert, 44, 58 


basic historic periods of, 8 
on cutting edge of evolution, 34 



Man: ( cont .) 

obsessed with controlling nature, 

Marcuse, 161-162 
on death, 125-126 
Marx, Karl, on money as perfect 
fetish, 82 

historic contributions of, 61 
Rousseau’s influence upon, 38-39 
shortcomings of, 39, 49-51, 147 
social inequality, 128, 143-144 
versus conservatism, on issue of 

natural limitations of man, 165 
Mass Psychology of Fascism, T he 
(Reich), 92 
Mead, Margaret, 141 
Melville, H., on fetishization of evil, 

Micro- and macrocosmization : 

primitive way of controlling nature, 
18, 54 
Rank on, 18 
Mikhailovsky, N., 135 
on hero as enemy of democracy, 

Moby Dick ( Melville), 51 
Modem man: 

denial of evil and death by, 17 
economic equality beyond endur- 
ance of, 85-86 

weakness of the family today, 62 

modern economics as caricature of 
primitive potlatch, 6, 30 
as modern ritual, 75 
as new universal immortality ideol- 
ogy, 73-84 

as visible sacred power, 73-87 
“The Moral Equivalent of War” 
(James), 126 

Mumford, Lewis, on the megama- 
chine, 97-100 

Nazi psychology: 

as death potlatch, 103-104 
elements of sacrifice, guilt and 
expiation in, 103-104, 111 
Nietzsche, F.: 

dynamic of revenge, 115-116 

all moral categories as power cate- 
gories, 149 

Pharaoh, 53-54 

brother-sister marriage as mode of 
preserving power, 152 
as emergent tyranny of ancient 
world, 53-54 
Plains Indians: 

egalitarianism of, 44 
police force of, 57-58 
warfare of, 96 
Pompeii, 80 

Possessed , The (Dostoevsky), 150 
spell of, 51 

voluntary human submission to, 51 
( See also Primitive world) 

Power figures and sources, 45-51 
Power and Privilege (Lenski), 166 
Primitive ritual, 56-67 
Hocart on, 6-8 

as practical technics, for control- 
ling nature, 6-21 

as preindustrial technique of manu- 
facture, 8 

as ancestor of modem facework, 16 
and magic, 8, 15 
puberty and death, 48 
and renewal of life, 14-15 
sacrifice as technic for control of 
evil, 20-21 

( See also King; Primitive world) 
Primitive world: 

child as spiritual being in, 66 
and death, 45 
economics : 

as communal, 27-28, 31-32 
as expiatory, 27-28 
as sacred power, 29, 31-32 
games and contests as nature con- 
trol, 19 

gifts, religious nature of, 27-32, 37 
herorismsand expiation facilitated in, 
31-37, 96 

inequalities in, 40^2, 129 

as dual organization, 9-10 
as primitive genius, 13 
as way of creating status, 11 
mana and taboo, as power issues, 46 



money, 76, 78 
and paranoia in, 86n. 
potlatch as economic ritual, 30-31, 

ritual control of nature, 6-8 
sacrifice as essence of ritual, 20 

as beginning of trade, 30 
motives for creating, 27-29 
totemism, 60 
warfare, 96 
( See also Ritual ) 

Progoff, Ira, psychology after Freud, 

Pruyser, Paul, 159 

Psychoanalysis, as a hero system, 157 

Radin, Paul, 45n., 52 
on inequality, 47—48 
Rank, Otto, 4, 43, 63, 69-71 
culture as antidote to terror, 92 
on guilt, 34 

impossibility of economic equality, 

neurosis as incapacity for illusion, 

psychology as self-deception, 57 
revision of Freud, 65-66 
sacrifice and decrease of anxiety, 

Reformation, reassertion of early 
Christianity’s promise, 71 
Religion, as magic, 15 
Religious systems, as mystification, 

Religious temples, the first banks, 79 
Rock music festivals : 
as religious experience, 14n. 
as triumph over emptiness of mod- 
em life, 120 
Rocoeur, Paul, 146 
Roheim, Geza, 14n., 31 
on money, 79 

Roman arena games, as sacrifice 
rituals, 110-111 


and Christianity, 69-72 
“eternal city,” 68 

on equality, 129-130 

fallacy of natural equality argu- 
ment, 129-131 
on inequality, 38—40 
primitive warfare, 96-97 


as expiation of natural guilt, 101- 

as means for establishing commu- 
nion with invisible world of the 
gods, 102-104 
recent, in England, 110 
as a sadistic formula, 159 
and scapegoating, 102 
Sadism, 116 
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 108 

based on animal narcissism, 109 
on large scale, 98 
logic of, 93, 109-114 
modem, 121 
religious, 124 
and socialist society, 118 
Schoeck, Helmut, on envy, 12 

as modem magical control, 8-9 
andtragedy, merger of, 169 
Science of man: 
after Hitler, 114-119 
task of, 160-165 

Sexual potency, and stock market 
levels, 122 

Shaman, as power hero, 47 
( See also Primitive world ) 

Sin, historical versions of, 88-89 
Social evil, nature of, 96-127 

( See also Scapegoating; Transfer- 

Social theory: 

merger of Marx and Freud, 128- 

neither radical, nor conservative, 


and a psychology of evil, 137 
Societies : 

and codes for self-esteem mainte- 
nance, 13-14 

each, as a hero system, 168 
the heroic, possibilities for, 146- 

as sacred, 64 



Societies: (cont.) 

basic characteristics of, 115, 124 
as secular forms of religious drama 
of redemption, 124 
as standardized systems of death- 
denial, 119-125, 153-154 
as structures of immortality ideolo- 
gies, 63 


guilt and sacrifice as fundamental 
categories of, 114-118 
grand social cohesions, as problems 
of, 117 

Sore], Georges, 160n. 

Soviets : 

economy, 30, 86 
mana power of leaders, 55 
as living secular caricature of re- 
ligious expiation, 118 


alliance of kings and priests, 67 

increase of war, with rise of, 98-99 

right of war draft, 70 

rise of alienation, 66, 98 

rise of patriarchal family, 66-67 

Sun, primitive archetype of power, 

Surplus, religious motives for creation 
of, 31 

Tolstoy, on death, 4 

Transference, 50, 127, 147-148, 157 

as creative distortion of reality, 158 
dynamics of, 126, 147-148 
as immunization against terror, 148 
naturalness of, 126 
as slavishness, 126 
Tristana (Bunuel), 85 

Vampire stories, the body symbolizing 
doom, 123 

Van der Leeuw, on primitive religious 
ideas, 29 
Vietnam war: 

burden of unresolvable guilt from, 

as sacrifice for more power, 106- 


decrease of national anxiety during, 

as heroic victory over evil, 115-117 
as redeeming and purifying, 115- 

as ritual for heroic emergence, 109 
Weber, Max, 124 
Wiesel, Elie, 169 
World on the Wane, A (Levi- 
Strauss), 38 

Zilboorg, Gregory: 

on death fears and sadism, 113-114 
on the leader, 166-167